Elia Viviani made it a hat trick of wins in the Giro d’Italia on the 13th stage, while Simon Yates remained in the overall lead on Friday as the race heads into the mountains.
The Italian rider won a bunch sprint at the end of the mainly flat 180-kilometer (112-mile) leg from Ferrara to Nervesa della Battaglia for his first victory in Italy after two wins in Israel at the start.
Sam Bennett, also seeking a third victory, was second ahead of Danny van Poppel.
It was a perfect response from Viviani, who was criticized after finishing more than 10 minutes behind stage winner Bennett on Thursday.
The Italian made a ‘calm down’ motion with his hands as he crossed the line before punching the air.
“You need calm before judging: we read what is said about us,” Viviani said. “It makes me lose my temper when people ask ‘Where has Elia disappeared to, what’s he doing?’ There needed to be a response.”
He said the Quick-Step floors team sought to clarify Thursday’s dip in form.
“Yesterday we evaluated what happened. We think it’s because it’s been two- and-a-half years since I’ve done a grand tour and days like that can happen,” Viviani said. “Those who saw me at the finish line know I wasn’t in a good way, it happens.”
It gave him extra motivation.
“We set off this morning with a grudge to bear and that helped us,” he said. “When someone makes you angry you react and go quicker.”
The general classification was unchanged as the British rider Yates retained his 47-second advantage over defending champion Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands.
Frenchman Thibaut Pinot is third, 1:04 behind Yates.
“It was quite nice to prepare for tomorrow. It’s never easy in the sprint though,” Yates said. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
“It will be very difficult. I don’t know the climb but it’s iconic. If I have the legs I’ll try as, as I’ve been saying since the beginning, I need the time. But I don’t expect big gaps.”
The stage was meant to be a relatively easy one, before the race hits the mountains this weekend, and so it proved.
There was an early breakaway of five riders, who swiftly built a lead of 3 1/2 minutes.
The peloton picked up the pace as they headed into Nervesa della Battaglia and crossed the finish line for the first time less than a minute behind the escapees ahead of the 30-kilometer finishing circuit.
The gap was down to 22 seconds at the top of the Montello climb, shortly before the finish, and the catch was made with just over six kilometers remaining.
Viviani was set up perfectly by his team and surged through a gap past Sacha Modolo.
The Giro intensifies on Saturday with a climb up Monte Zoncolan, at the end of a 186-kilometer route from San Vito al Tagliamento. There are four other categorized climbs before the final, iconic ascent.
There is another grueling leg through the Dolomite Range on Sunday, followed by the Giro’s third and final rest day.
The 21-stage race ends in Rome on May 27.