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Denz Doubles Up On Stage 14 As Ineos Allows Armirail Take Pink

There is a new maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia after Ineos Grenadiers allowed Bruno Armirail, who started the day 18’37” down on GC, to take the overall lead from the breakaway and spare Geraint Thomas the post-race obligations of leading a Grand Tour. Nico Denz took a brilliant victory on Stage 14 ahead of Derek Gee, adding to his win two days earlier.

Nico Denz (Bora-hansgrohe) doubled up at the Giro d’Italia after pulling off an incredible win on Stage 14, while Bruno Armirail (Groupama–FDJ) sailed into the maglia rosa as Geraint Thomas and Ineos Grenadiers chose to give it away.

The German, who also won Stage 12, hauled a five-strong chase group into contention in the finale, joining the leading trio of Stefano Oldani (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Davide Ballerini (Soudal Quick-Step) and Tom Skujins (Trek–Segafredo) inside the last kilometre. With weary legs around him, Denz pushed on and took a tight victory ahead of Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech), who was denied again.

The stage offered the riders brief respite from the brutal conditions which have beset this Giro, beginning in glorious Swiss sunshine in the canton of Vallais. The straightforward course profile had all the hallmarks of a big breakaway victory, and it was no surprise that the battle to escape the peloton’s clutches began in earnest the moment the race director dropped his flag.

Apart from the main GC contenders, every team had an interest in making the break, but it was Laurenz Rex (Intermarche-Wanty Gobert) who proved most invested and offered a carrot for others. Attacks came in flurries from strong riders such as Larry Warbasse (AG2R Citroen), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Ballerini.

Wide roads meant anyone who wanted to get involved could at least try, as there was no shutting down the attempts to buy a lottery ticket for the stage win. With 20km of the stage completed and 18 riders up the road to the tune of 40 seconds, Ineos sought to put a lid on things but Stephen Williams (Israel-Premier Tech), Carlos Verona (Movistar) and Skujins made a late dash for it on a short unclassified rise.

At 160km to go, with 18 riders at the front and nine more chasing, the pace in the peloton slowed and the gap began to increase exponentially. The group of 27 riders contained a number of decorated names, including several looking to complete the set of Grand Tour stage victories. Two Eolo-Kometa latecomers managed to join them, significant because they included Davide Bais, the rider in second place in the mountains competition.

The main geological feature of the day was the Simplon pass. Though not intimidating in terms of gradient, it was a long climb that finished at 2000m altitude. Most significant, however, was that the conditions were worsening by the minute. The weather may have had an effect on the manner in which the climb was ridden. Attacks which might have been expected to come out of the break – especially with a sprinter like Fernando Gaviria (Movistar) among their number – did not appear.

The 29 were all together until the top, when Armirail, on behalf of his Groupama team-mate Thibaut Pinot sought to at least limit the number of points Bais could take at the summit. Armirail served only to lead out the Italian, who took the maximum of 40 and became the new virtual maglia azzurra.

On the descent riders struggled in the cold and wet, with Armirail especially having trouble with his coat and gloves.

With 120km to go, halfway from the bottom, the race re-entered Italy. Gaps began opening up just as the overall time between the breakaway and the bunch increased to well over 12 minutes. Gaviria began to look like a solid favourite for the stage unless he could be distanced on the flat.

Attacks out of the group were inevitable, but they did not begin until the break reached the region of Piedmont and the shores of Lake Maggiore.

Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) was the first to try one. Denz went after him but the pair were soon brought back.

Next to go was Rex, who was followed by Oldani and the pair formed an immediate alliance as they swept up the inconsequential second set of intermediate sprint points at Stresa. Two riders became three, as Ballerini made it across, before Skujins was also able to join them.

Four riders should have not had an advantage but they had more motivation to cooperate than group behind, who seemed intent on leaving it all up to Movistar. When the Spanish team’s firepower faded, inside 20km to go, the advantage was very much to the quartet out front. 45 seconds in hand looked very valuable indeed.

Something had to give among the chasers, and the group began to fragment on the rolling hills that followed over the next few kilometres. Still it seemed like the escapees had done enough to hold off the effort of the four riders – Bettiol, Denz, Gee and Marius Mayrhofer (Team DSM) – plus Rex after he was dropped and tacked himself on.

Even as the race came to the final few hundred metres it seemed sure to be between Skujins, Ballerini and Oldani, but the finish was deceptively leg-sapping and the trio simply ran out of gas.

Denz was the rider to complete the catch, before Bettiol launched round with an attack, which the German rider was happy to take advantage of. By half a wheel he took his second stage win from Gee, who has now been runner-up on three stages of this Giro.

“I thought we had lost it,” said Denz afterwards. “It seemed they couldn’t close [on the lead trio]. Then the attacks went on the hills. I still felt really good so I followed and in the end we almost closed it, but they stopped pushing.

“I thought it was all for nothing – I didn’t want to finish fourth so I closed it. When Bettiol launched I jumped on his wheel and went through to the line.”

Meanwhile, the peloton had taken it so easy as to allow the best placed rider in the break, Armirail, a fighting chance at taking the overall race lead. Armirail crossed the line 53 seconds behind Denz, but 20′ 18″ ahead of the maglia rosa group, enough to become the new pink jersey by 1’41”.

It means Thomas will not line up in the leader’s pink jersey on Sunday’s four-star mountain stage.

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