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Ben Healy of Education First pulled off a long-range breakaway to win stage eight of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday, as race favourite Remco Evenepoel came under pressure.
The 22-year-old Irishman dropped his three breakaway companions on the day’s hardest climb, the Monte Delle Cesane, to take his first ever world tour victory in style.
“I had great legs and nobody could follow me, so it was a great day,” said Healy, who has broken through this year coming second to Tadej Pogacar in April’s Amstel Gold Race.
Drama unfolded in the overall race as three-time Vuelta winner Primoz Roglic attacked Evenepoel around 5km from the line.
While Roglic managed to drop Evenepoel, Ineos pair Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart also skipped past the Belgian as the trio managed to trim his advantage in the standings by about 15 seconds.
While Evenepoel at first managed to keep pace with Roglic he soon stopped trying, almost certainly keeping his powder dry for his preferred time-trial flat terrain on Sunday’s stage nine.
World champion Evenepoel had come under criticism overnight for having returned to his hotel from an Apennine peak by helicopter after Friday’s six hour stage seven.
Norway‘s Andreas Leknessund retained the overall lead eight seconds ahead of Evenepoel while Roglic climbed to third at 38 seconds.
Other fancied riders Joao Almeida and Damiano Caruso kept pace and Ineos pair Thomas and Hart seemed to have brushed off the overnight loss of teammate Filippo Ganna, who has Covid.
Leknessund is almost certain to lose his pink overall jersey on Sunday when the Giro stages its second of three individual time trials, a 35km run to Cesena.
The total length of the three individual time trials on this Giro is 73km, which is huge by any standards and lends Evenepoel enough advantage for the Quick Step rider to choose the Giro over the Tour de France this season.
The peloton gets its first rest day on Monday before two mountain and three hilly stages in week two with the race veering into Switzerland where the Crans Montana and the Col du Grand Saint Bernard at 2469m altitude await any pretender to this 106th Giro.