Australian Jai Hindley took the overall lead of the Giro d’Italia on the penultimate day but has less than a one-second advantage over stage 20 winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, setting the race up for a nail-biting finale on Sunday.
Hindley narrowly lost to Geoghegan Hart on Saturday, but he leads the Briton by 0.86 second ahead of the final time trial, which is expected to favour the Ineos-Grenadiers rider.
The smallest winning margin ever on a grand tour was in 1984 when France’s Eric Caritoux won the Vuelta a Espana by just six seconds over Alberto Fernandez.
“I’m very happy for myself, for my team and for the Giro: today was a beautiful day! Tomorrow’s time trial will be a matter of legs, the route is short, I hope to have a good day and a bit of luck, then we will see,” said Geoghegan Hart.
The Londoner was only Ineos-Grenadiers’s plan B when the Giro started, but then-team leader Geraint Thomas was forced to abandon early in the race following a crash, and the 24-year-old Geoghegan Hart quietly moved up the general classification.
Hindley was equally excited to have the race leader’s pink jersey on his back ahead of the final day.
“Incredible, I have no words. From an early age I dreamed of wearing the Maglia Rosa, it’s a huge honour for me, I still don’t believe it. Tomorrow I’ll give my best in the individual time trial,” he said.
Hindley’s Sunweb team mate Wilco Kelderman, who started the 190-km ride from Alba in the race leader’s Maglia Rosa jersey, finished 1:35 behind and now lies 1:32 off the pace after dropping out when Geoghegan Hart’s team mate Rohan Dennis set a high tempo in the first ascent to Sestriere.
Joao Almeida, who lost the overall lead on the 18th stage across the snow-covered Stelvio pass on Thursday, attacked from the group of chasers that featured Dutchman Kelderman and double champion Vincenzo Nibali in the finale, to end the stage in fourth place behind Dennis.
The stage had been due to go through the punishing Col d’Agnel and Col d’Izoard in France, but restrictions due to the Covid-19 crisis meant the organisers were forced to change the route and have the peloton climb up to Sestriere twice.
Kelderman and most of the big guns were dropped in the first ascent to the ski resort as Dennis accelerated, taking Geoghegan Hart and Hindley in his slipstream.
The Dutchman was hovering 40 seconds behind at the top and lost even more time on the last ascent, where Hindley attacked repeatedly but failed to drop Geoghegan Hart.
Sunday’s time trial is a 15.7-km effort from Cernusco sul Naviglio to Milan.
It will be the first time a grand tour is decided between a race leader and second-placed rider separated by less than a second before the final stage.
Should Geoghegan Hart prevail, it will be the second grand tour in a row in which a rider has won the race on the last competitive day, after Tadej Pogacar blew away fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic on the final time trial of the Tour de France in September, one day before the largely processional final ride to Paris.
The announcement at COP28 in Dubai puts Turkey in the race against Australia
The non-Bank Division was won by the Orient Travel Team