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As it happened: Victory for Zana and blow for Almeida on Giro d'Italia stage 18

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Hello there and welcome along to our live coverage of stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia!

Back into the mountains we go and, while Friday's monster stage and Saturday's mountain time trial might be the pivotal days, today's parcours should give us some more action in the battle for the pink jersey that only really got going a couple of days ago.

Here's what's in store. No huge high-mountain passes like tomorrow but a fair old chunk of elevation gain nonetheless. An early climb should make for a frantic start, while the pair of steep climbs near the end should inspire some action ahead of the final haul to the line.

Giro d'Italia 2023 stage 18

(Image credit: RCS Sport)

The riders are gathering on the start line and will soon be rolling out.

Glorious start location today in Oderzo.

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Two non-starters today. Niccolo Bonifazio (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), who was fourth yesterday, has bronchitis, while Luca Covili (Green Project-Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) is out with gastoenteritis.

The riders are on the move and we have a 10-minute neutral zone to negotiate before the flag drops and the race gets underway. We should see plenty of interest in the breakaway today.

Before we get going, your recommended reading is Barry Ryan's scene-setting preview as we head into the crucial phase of the 2023 Giro.

Three riders, three days, 29 seconds – Thomas, Almeida and Roglic reach Giro d’Italia endgame

Ice packs are being stuffed down jerseys in this neutral zone. Oderzo has gone all out on the pink and it's resplendent in this shimmering sunshine. The rain and cold of the opening weeks may feel like a distant memory at this point (or maybe not), but we will be heading back up above the snow line tomorrow.

It's Geraint Thomas' birthday today. He's 37. Here he is with a cake on the start podium a few minutes ago. 

Overall leader INEOS Grenadierss British rider Geraint Thomas C waves while holding a birthday cake celebrating his 37th birthday during the presentation of the teams prior to the eighteenth stage of the Giro dItalia 2023 cycling race 161 km between Oderzo and Val di Zoldo on May 25 2023 Photo by Luca Bettini AFP Photo by LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

We're off!

The riders reach kilometre-zero and stage 18 is underway.

The first attack comes from Thomas Champion (Cofidis) who leads the competition for most breakaway kilometres so far. It comes to nothing but not it stretches out as Gianni Moscon (Astana) gives it a nudge.

A big group goes but reactions still coming from behind.

Ineos are looking to fire Ben Swift up the road, as they did a couple of days ago.

Derek Gee - of course - is just ahead of Swift and he effectively drags the lined-out peloton back to that initial group of 15. All together again.

Ben Healy (EF) is up towards the front in his blue jersey as leader of the mountains classification.

Gee is keeping a watchful eye around the front. Accelerations are coming thick and fast but no real gaps appearing.

Jayco-AlUla have been active and now Alessandro De Marchi goes off. Larry Warbasse (AG2R) is also interested, as are Israel's Gee and Frigo.

Filippo Zana now goes for Jayco.

10km gone in the blink of an eye, and no breakaway yet. We have just under 20km more until we hit the first climb of the day, and it's a pretty big one.

Splits now as the next wave of attacks comes.

There are two groups off the front but it's all coming back together as Jumbo-Visma's Koen Bouwman drags it back. There must be a danger man in there.

Healy gives it a whack as that move comes to nothing. He's in blue and these next two stages are huge for the mountains classification, starting with 40 points for our early cat-1 climb today, which is starting in just over 10km.

Four go clear now and Healy is on the front trying to shut it down, perhaps using up more precious energy after just attacking himself.

He gets assistance now from Zana, who starts to shut it down. 

Santiago Buitrago is active for Bahrain Victorious. Perhaps that's who Jumbo are concerned about. He's 14th overall and has impressed in service of Damiano Caruso.

Healy gives it another bash. Warbasse is next in line but nothing going.

20km ridden and it's all together again.

Healy goes again and is joined by Jake Stewart (FDJ).

Luis Leon Sanchez responds and that duo is brought back. All together.

Or is it? A roundabout creates another natural split and Healy is away again with Sanchez and a couple more as Stewart appears to have a mechanical problem.

Zana tries to ping across but now sits up.

Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) is in this nascent break, along with Davide Gabburo (Bardiani), and Alexandre Delettre (Cofidis). The other two are Healy and Sanchez.

Haig is 18th overall at 10:58. He lost time in the second week due to the effects of a crash.

The move is going but Eolo-Kometa have missed it and they're now on the front of the bunch.

Arkea also want in, and they help close the gap.

The road is heading uphill now onto the lower slopes of the Passo della Crosetta. 

The gap is closed and it's all together for a moment before Warren Barguil (Arkea) goes out front.

Buitrago jumps across to it. Sprinters are getting spat out the back already.

Zana is determined to get in this break and he comes across, with a couple of riders in tow.

Here's what we're dealing with now.

Giro d'Italia 2023 stage 18

(Image credit: RCS Sport)

Aurelien Paret-Peintre (AG2R) is another top 20 GC rider who looks to get involved. 

Add to that list: Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).

Ineos and Jumbo have to be really attentive here. They are, and the effect is that the bunch is exploding. Lots of riders dropped.

A ver very mini peloton here, even on the lower slopes of this climb.

Another push out the front and Zana is there again along with Gee and Frigo, plus Paret-Peintre.

Pinot is up there again, as is Haig.

We also have Vadim Pronskiy for Astana, and a Bardiani rider has jumped across.

Jumbo-Visma control the peloton - or what's left of it. Ineos have pink with Thomas but it's Roglic's men who have taken command of the bunch. 

Jumbo are pulling in both groups as Edoardo Affini sits on the nose of a second main bunch. 

It's Tonelli for Bardiani and you should now be able to see the list of riders in this breakaway just above.

Healy is now getting dropped. He used a load of energy on the 25km before this climb.

Andreas Leknessund (DSM) attacks! He wore the pink jersey earlier in the race, he's still 8th overall, and he's trying to bridge to the break.

Buitrago goes with him!

Jumbo are struggling to contain this and more moves go, with Ineos looking to ping. a rider up now.

It's all getting a bit spicy and it's all coming back together, although the peloton is being completely shredded as a result.

As it comes together, Gee and Frigo go again, and they're joined by Pronskiy.

Pinot goes again as Pronskiy is distanced from this latest move.

Only 25 riders left in the bunch, and now Zana kicks it off again with Paret-Peintre.

Pinot is up with the Israel duo of Gee and Frigo, once again lighting up this race. Behind, we have Zana and Paret-Peintre now chasing with Pronskiy. Behind them is the mini bunch, which is settling once more with Jumbo-Visma on the front. 

Pronskiy is distanced again and it doesn't look like he'll be in today's break. Paret-Peintre shows good legs to drop Zana on his way to the front, although the Italian champion has attacked a lot today, and is still clawing his way over himself.

As it starts to calm, a group of riders is coming back towards the main bunch, containing a couple of reinforcements for Ineos and Jumbo.

It's Sam Oomen and Thomas Gloag on the front for Jumbo, ahead of Thymen Arensman and Laurens De Plus for Ineos.

Jumbo actually have four more riders further down - Roglic, Kuss, Dennis, and Hessman. In the group coming back they have Bouwman.

Ineos look to be gaining Puccio from this group coming back but they are outnumbered, although that's to be expected since Geoghegan Hart, Ganna, and Sivakov are not in the race at all anymore. 

More attacks now as the peloton increases in size. Haig follows some moves. 

The lead group have 42 seconds in hand as they hit the final 3km of La Crosetta.

Haig joins Barguil, Fortunato, and Stojnic in this counter-attack

UAE have good numbers with Vine, McNulty, Formolo, Ulissi alongside Almeida. 

Pascal Ackermann, remarkably, is still here for UAE as well.

The leaders are more than a minute up now.

A new attack from Israel and Stevie Williams pings from the bunch. The team already have two up the road.

William blitzes across the gap to the counter with Haig, Barguil, Fortunato, and Stojnic. 

Pronskiy is still in the gap between them and the leaders - Pinot, Gee, Frigo, Paret-Peintre, Zana, Gabburo. 

So far today: not boring.

Change in the bunch as Ineos take it up now. Jumbo disappear.

Splits in the bunch!

The bunch briefly split there with a gap back to Jumbo. The pace has been raised. as the group has thinned markedly once again!

Ineos are definitely upping the pace and they catch the Haig/Barguil counter-attack!

Do Ineos smell blood? De Plus is on the front, and they still have Arensman with Thomas. All three are in the top 10 overall.

Barguil kicks again and gets over to Pronskiy.

120km to go

Top of the Crosetta and Pinot gets there first, uncontested, to collect the maximum 40 KOM points. 

Pronskiy and Barguil are next over, just ahead of the reduced bunch, 30 seconds down on the leaders.

Some gentle descending before a steeper downhill that will lead into our next climb, a short cat-4 number.

Ineos have dropped a couple of Jumbo riders, including Bouwman, but they've also dropped Puccio, who they might want to ride in the valley that leads to the final mountains.

Here's a shot of our breakaway.

ODERZO ITALY MAY 25 Derek Gee of Canada and Team Israel Premier Tech competes in the breakaway during the 106th Giro dItalia 2023 Stage 18 a 161km stage from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo Palafavera 1514m UCIWT on May 25 2023 in Val di Zoldo Palafavera Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The bunch does swell as more riders like Puccio come back.

Meanwhile out five-man break has taken advantage of that slowing to move out to 1:20. Barguil and Pronskiy are still in no-man's land.

Ben Swift also comes back for Ineos, so they'll have two workhorses - Swift and Puccio - for the valley, and then two elite climbers - De Plus and Arensman - to go with Thomas on the final climbs.

Jumbo-Visma also have numbers but there have been question marks already. They were on the front earlier, perhaps needlessly so, and Roglic hasn't been riding close to the front all day, even if most of his teammates were there. He's been towards middle and back, and it even caught him out just before as Ineos upped the pace and he was very briefly distanced.

Ineos are marshalling the peloton now with four riders in front of Thomas. 

Roglic is once again at the back, with Kuss, although they're trying to move up now. 

Barguil and Pronskiy join the break. They worked well together and plugged away at that. Pronskiy has been in no-man's land for ages but is in what's now a seven-man breakaway.

Thomas in the spotlight as words are exchanged between Ineos and Jumbo.

VAL DI ZOLDO PALAFAVERA ITALY MAY 25 Geraint Thomas of The United Kingdom and Team INEOS Grenadiers Pink Leader Jersey competes during the 106th Giro dItalia 2023 Stage 18 a 161km stage from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo Palafavera 1514m UCIWT on May 25 2023 in Val di Zoldo Palafavera Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Here was De Plus giving it some on the upper slopes of La Crosetta.

VAL DI ZOLDO PALAFAVERA ITALY MAY 25 Laurens De Plus of Belgium and Team INEOS Grenadiers competes during the 106th Giro dItalia 2023 Stage 18 a 161km stage from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo Palafavera 1514m UCIWT on May 25 2023 in Val di Zoldo Palafavera Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

And again.

VAL DI ZOLDO PALAFAVERA ITALY MAY 25 Laurens De Plus of Belgium and Team INEOS Grenadiers competes during the 106th Giro dItalia 2023 Stage 18 a 161km stage from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo Palafavera 1514m UCIWT on May 25 2023 in Val di Zoldo Palafavera Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The gap between break and bunch stands at 1:45 as we dip downhill towards the foot of our next little climb.

100km to go

Just 100 to go on what has been a breathless start to today's stage. It should now settle into something of a holding pattern as we go over this next climb and into the valley but, given the action so far, we can expect some fireworks on the bigger final climbs.

The breakaway hit the second climb of the day, the cat-4 Pieve d'Alpago, which measures 3.3km at 5.5%.

Another group stitched onto the back of the bunch at the end of that decent, so we have a sizeable peloton once again, 1:45 behind our seven-man break. 

Ineos lead the peloton, ahead of UAE, and then Jumbo-Visma. 

All three teams have every one of their riders in here - Ineos with five, UAE with seven, and Jumbo with eight. 

92.5km to go

The breakaway reach the top of the Pieve d'Alpago climb and it's Pinot who once again collects maximum mountains points with a minimum of fuss. He wore the blue jersey in two spells earlier in the race and is closing in on Healy's lead.

New KOM standings

1. Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost)- 164 points

2. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) - 156

3. Davide Bais (Eolo-Kometa) - 144

4. Einer Rubio (Movistar) - 118

5. Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) - 55

A short downhill now and then a long 50km slog up through the valley en route to the final climbs. 

The breakaway take their lead to two minutes and we should now be entering a much quieter mid-section of this stage. These seven escapees should have no big problems working together here, while Ineos will simply control the peloton with a steady tempo through Swift and Puccio. 

The gap goes out above 2:30.

3:30 now as the peloton calls for a spot of lunch.

Overall leaders pink jersey INEOS Grenadierss British rider Geraint Thomas C and Best young riders white jersey UAE Team Emiratess Portuguese rider Joao Almeida 2ndL ride in the pack during the eighteenth stage of the Giro dItalia 2023 cycling race 161 km between Oderzo and Val di Zoldo on May 25 2023 Photo by Luca Bettini AFP Photo by LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images

(Image credit: LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images)

The gap reaches 4:20 now.

The best-placed rider in the break is Pinot, who's 13th at 6:48. 

Ineos have taken charge and looked strong this stage, even placing Roglic and Jumbo-Visma under serious pressure earlier. Here's a piece on the mood in their camp ahead of this trio of mountain stages.

Keep calm and win the Giro d'Italia - Ineos Grenadiers back Geraint Thomas for title

The race leader on an earlier descent.

VAL DI ZOLDO PALAFAVERA ITALY MAY 25 Geraint Thomas of The United Kingdom and Team INEOS Grenadiers Pink Leader Jersey competes during the 106th Giro dItalia 2023 Stage 18 a 161km stage from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo Palafavera 1514m UCIWT on May 25 2023 in Val di Zoldo Palafavera Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

And here's Roglic, who has some bandaging on his left leg. He has crashed a few times at this Giro, the worst seemingly the gash suffered to his left thigh on stage 5. Is he physically struggling? There was certainly something wrong two days ago, and there have been worrying signs already today. 

VAL DI ZOLDO PALAFAVERA ITALY MAY 25 Primo Rogli of Slovenia and Team JumboVisma competes during the 106th Giro dItalia 2023 Stage 18 a 161km stage from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo Palafavera 1514m UCIWT on May 25 2023 in Val di Zoldo Palafavera Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The gap nudges up to 4:45 as we chug up through the valley.

We're coming to the end of the first section of valley, with a short uncategorised coming up that leads to an intermediate sprint and a final 10km plateau ahead of our final climbs.

Beautiful scenery as we head towards the Dolomites.

VAL DI ZOLDO PALAFAVERA ITALY MAY 25 A general view of the peloton climbing to the Pieve dAlpago 691m during the 106th Giro dItalia 2023 Stage 18 a 161km stage from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo Palafavera 1514m UCIWT on May 25 2023 in Val di Zoldo Palafavera Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

50km to go

Into the final 50 and the seven-man breakaway move out to five minutes. 

The peloton hits this uncategorised climb and it's Swift on the front with full numbers for all the big teams.

Pinot had trouble in the valley last week but this group has been cooperating well together and they've moved to 5:15 out in front.

The break skip up the stiff final kick up into Pieve di Cadore, where we'll have our intermediate sprint.

Gee is second in the points classification and will want to add to his tally here.

No contest as Gee eases clear to take the full 12 points. 

Updated points classification

1. Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious) - 215 points

2. Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech) - 133

3. Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) - 95 

4. Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla) - 93

5. Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) - 79

The peloton lose some time on that steep kicker and they pass through the intermediate sprint 5:52 in arrears.

A reminder of our stage profile. We're on the approach now to the third-last climb, and we're only a few kilometres away. 

Giro d'Italia 2023 stage 18

(Image credit: RCS Sport)