Geraint Thomas maintained his bid to become the oldest Giro d’Italia champion although his lead was cut slightly by Primoz Roglic during the toughest stage of the race on Friday.
Roglic crossed the summit finish of the so-called “Queen Stage” three seconds ahead of Thomas at the end of the race’s final mountain road leg.
There were no flat sections and five tough, classified climbs on the 183-kilometer route from Longarone to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, which had gradients of up to 18%.
The 19th stage was won by Santiago Buitrago, who finished 51 seconds ahead of Derek Gee and 1 minute 46 seconds ahead of Magnus Cort and Roglic, who just missed out on bonus seconds.
“I’m really happy with this victory. It was the most difficult moment of a difficult Giro for me personally,” said Buitrago. “I wanted to try and raise my arms before the end and coming here at Tre Cime di Lavaredo is amazing.
“This is the recompense for all the work that I’ve done. … There’s a lot of motivation for me and the whole team having seen the fruits of our labors.”
Thomas is 26 seconds ahead of Roglic going into what will be a decisive penultimate stage on Saturday. Third-placed Joao Almeida lost more time and was 59 seconds behind Thomas.
Roglic changed his bicycle shortly before the start of the penultimate climb and he made his move inside the final kilometer. However, Thomas was able to stick to his wheel and the British cyclist made his own attack in the final 500 meters and looked to have slightly distanced his rival. But Roglic came back and gained what could be a vital few seconds.
The winner will likely be decided in Saturday’s mountain time trial that ends in a demanding climb up Monte Lussari, with an elevation of over 1,000 meters and gradients of up to 22%.
“Tomorrow we go full again,” Roglic said. “It’s good. We got a bit of legs back, so tomorrow we go full, eh? If I wouldn’t be confident then I don’t start. The best one at the end wins.”