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Giro d'Italia Stage 7: Astana's Bilbao wins stage, Conti of UAE Team Emirates still in pink (+ reaction and video highlights)

Basque rider takes first Grand Tour stage win of career after hard-fought day's racing...

Astana's Pello Bilbao proved the strongest member of today's break, attacking with 1,200 metres to go to win today's Stage 7 of the Giro d'Italia in L'Aquila. Valerio Conti of UAE Team Emirates retains the overall lead, with a 1 minute 32 seconds advantage over Movistar's Jose Joaquin Rojas at the end of a hard-fought 185-kilometre stage from Vaslo.

A technical final 10 kilometres into L’Aquila – struck 10 years ago by a devastating earthquake commemorated by today’s stage – saw twisting climbs and descents and then, with 2 kilometres left, a sharp turn followed by another climb, with the final kilometre having an average gradient of 7 per cent.

The break’s lead had been slashed to around a minute as they entered the final 10 kilometres, as the teams with overall contenders came to the front, and they would keep the escapees at around that margin until the end, crossing the line 1 minute and 7 seconds behind the winner.

By any measure it was a hilly stage today, but there was only one classified climb, the Svolto di Popoli, crested with 46.2 kilometres to go.

On that ascent, Ruben Plaza of Israel Cycling Academy, a member of yesterday’s break, and Lotto-Belisol’s Thomas De Gendt, getting in the escape group for the first but surely not the last time this year, lost contact with the group and the remaining 10 riders had an advantage of almost two minutes by the time they crossed the summit.

Among them was another rider who got away yesterday, Movistar’s Rojas who at 2 minutes 12 seconds down on Conti at the start of the day represented a clear threat to the maglia rosa.

That breakaway had got off the front of the peloton with around 85 kilometres remaining, after  an earlier move comprising 20 riders had been shut down, one of a number of failed moves in what had been a frantic opening to the stage.

Entering the final 30 kilometres, UAE Team Emirates – who today lost sprinter Fernando Gaviria who withdrew due to a knee injury – had some respite in controlling the break as Trek-Segafredo came to the front of the peloton.

Also abandoning today was Lotto-Visma’s Laurens De Plus, who had come to the race as a key support rider for Primoz Roglic, but has been struggling with illness for several days.

Stage winner Pello Bilbao 

“It’s been an impressive day. I didn’t target the stage victory today. It’s all been improvised. Dario Cataldo had to make the breakaway. At some point, with all attacks going on, I thought I had to start thinking of following the moves too as we preferred to have a rider at the front.

"We ended up being two of us with Andrey Zeits and it’s been a psychological battle for the stage win, not only a question of legs. I found the right moment to go, I didn’t look behind.

"It’s a wonderful victory and a very special one, knowing what happened here at L’Aquila. The Giro is also a special race for me because that’s the race that gave me the best shape of my life one year ago. But the most important is yet to come. We want to win the Giro with Miguel Angel Lopez.”

Maglia Rosa Valerio Conti 

“I’ve had an emotional wake up, looking at the jersey and this particular colour that is so beautiful for an Italian. I have to say an enormous thank you to my team. They’ve been all super in defending the Maglia Rosa. I appreciated the respect of the other riders and the encouragement of the crowd but I didn’t enjoy the racing much because it was always flat out.”

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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