GERAINT Thomas celebrated his 37th birthday with another masterful performance in the Dolomites to retain the pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia’s 18th stage.
The Welsh cyclist showed young gun João Almeida the way home in the penultimate hill test ahead of Sunday’s final stage, as the Portuguese ‘white jersey’ young rider leader slipped from second to third 39 seconds behind Thomas in the general classification.
Three-time Vuelta Tour of Spain winner Primoz Roglic moved up to second, 29 seconds back, with Thomas finishing alongside his Slovenian GC rival in eighth on the day.
But despite spraying the bubbly on the podium, Ineos rider Thomas, who owns the St Tewdrics wedding venue near Chepstow and was a favourite at the former Abergavenny Cycling Festival, will be putting the birthday celebrations on hold, as he bids to add the Giro to his 2018 Tour De France triumph, with another tough Dolomites hill stage and a time-trial to come in the next two days.
“It was a decent day,” he said. “To gain time on Almeida and not get dropped by Primoz, it was a good day, a solid day for sure.
“I felt pretty good, pretty in control. Primoz, he likes to go hard, then take it easy, then go hard. I gave him a few turns, then I wasn’t sure how he was feeling.
“In the last two kilometres he [Roglic] really squeezed on it again, he was super strong, but I was pretty happy with how it was,” Thomas added.
“Obviously it’s nice [to gain time] but Primoz had a bad day the other day and Almeida did today. I’ve just got to keep being consistent day by day, climb by climb.”
Italian road race champion and local favourite Filippo Zana beat Thibaut Pinot in a two-man final sprint on the tough final climb to take his first grand tour stage win in Val di Zoldo 1.56 ahead of the two GC frontrunners.
But Friday’s stage 19 is a 183km trip from Longarone and Tre Cime di Lavaredo, an even harder day in the mountains, with another five categorised climbs including three category-ones and over 5,000m of climbing.