Breakaway rider Gorka Izaguirre climbed to victory on an entertaining and fast-paced eighth stage of the Giro d’Italia as Bob Jungels retained the overall lead.
Izaguirre (Movistar) arrived at the foot of the 1.5km climb to the finish as part of a four-man leading group but pulled away with 900m to go and hung on to beat Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida) into second place by five seconds and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) into third by 10 seconds.
All of the general classification contenders followed two seconds later, ensuring Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) stays six seconds ahead of second-placed Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and 10 seconds ahead of third-placed Adam Yates (ORICA-SCOTT) at the top of the standings.
All of the pre-race favourites will now start Sunday's ninth stage, which ends with a summit finish at Blockhaus, within 10 seconds of each other.
Izaguirre, who claimed the first Grand Tour stage win of his career, told Eurosport: “It is my best victory and my best performance. I have been in the front many times, but this time, in the Giro, a huge race, is incredible and I am very happy.”
Stage 8 travelled 189km from Molfetta to Peschici, on the east coast of Italy, and looked like a good day for a breakaway winner given that general classification teams would be keen to save energy for Sunday’s summit finish.
A long and fierce battle to establish a breakaway ensued and it took 50 frantic kilometres for a group of 16 to finally form, but the peloton was still not happy with its composition and chased most of the escapees down.
A handful who weren’t caught formed a new, 15-man breakaway with fresh attackers out of the bunch, and this time the peloton allowed a gap of almost 4’30” to open up.
The group was reduced to five when Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) attacked with 37km left and was followed by Izaguirre, Visconti, Sanchez and Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-hansgrohe).
Subsequent attacks from Conti and Visconti led to Mühlberger being dropped, leaving the remaining quartet to fight for stage victory on the final climb.
Conti set the pace on the steep and technical ascent but then crashed on a tight right-hander. Izaguirre immediately attacked and with Visconti briefly held up by Conti, the Spaniard was able to open up what proved to be a decisive gap.
Back in the bunch, aside from a short-lived attack from Mikel Landa (Team Sky) with 10km to go, the overall contenders all chose to save their energy for Sunday and instead focused on not losing time in the sprint for the line.
Izaguirre added: “I was just behind Conti. He crashed just in front of me. We were 1km to the finihs and it was a very long 1km. I was looking behind me and I had said, ‘I have to go and keep it going to the end’."
Stage 8 result
1 Gorka Izaguirre (Esp) Movistar, 4h 24’59”
2 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, +5”
3 Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana, +10”
4 Enrico Battaglin (Ita) LottoNL-Jumbo, +12”
5 Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac, same time
6 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr, st
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, st
8 Adam Yates (GB) ORICA-SCOTT, st
9 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, st
10 Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors, st
1 Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors, 38h 21’18”
2 Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky, +6”
3 Adam Yates (GB) ORICA-SCOTT, +10”
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, same time
5 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale, st
6 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, st
7 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, st
8 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, st
9 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr, st
10 Andrey Amador (Cos) Movistar, st