Hirt claims 1st grand tour stage, Carapaz keeps Giro d’Italia lead

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APRICA, Italy — Czech cyclist Jan Hirt won the tough Stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia for his first grand tour victory and Richard Carapaz kept the pink jersey as the race headed into a final week in the high mountains.

Hirt clutched his head almost in disbelief before raising his hands into the air as he crossed the line at the end of the 202-kilometer (126-mile) route from Salo to Aprica, which included one of the sport’s toughest climbs up the Mortirolo.

“Every time someone asks me why I do cycling, what I want to achieve, I thought I want to win one stage on the Giro and then I can stop my career,” Hirt said with a laugh. “So now I’m happy, but I don’t want to stop.”

The leg also included two other top-classified ascents as more than 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) of climbing was packed into an epic stage. It was also the race’s annual wine stage and was dedicated to the Sforzato variety of the Valtellina area.

Hirt attacked near the top of the Santa Cristina climb, with double-digit gradients, and although he almost lost control on a descent made treacherous by earlier rain, the 31-year-old managed to stay on his bicycle and finished seven seconds ahead of Thymen Arensman.

“I wanted to try to do something nice today,” Hirt said. “I had quite difficult moments …. then in the end on the last climb I had also a problem with my bike, it was not shifting properly and the chain was jumping and also I had cramps on the downhill, so I was really suffering and I had all these problems, but I wanted to win so much so I fight until the end.”

There was a fight for third place and the final bonus seconds between the overall favorites, with Jai Hindley edging out Carapaz and Mikel Landa. The quartet – which also included Alejandro Valverde — crossed 1 minute, 24 seconds behind Hirt.

Hindley, who was runner-up in 2020, reduced the gap to Carapaz to three seconds. Joao Almeida remained third overall but lost 14 seconds and is now 0:44 behind the Ecuadorian cyclist.

“It was a tough stage and in the end I have to say I am happy,” Carapaz said. “I thought I was going to win the sprint for third place. I eventually didn’t but it’s still a good day for me.

“I’ve lost a few seconds on Hindley but I gained more on Almeida so the balance is positive.”

Landa was fourth, while two-time Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali moved into fifth after an attack from the peloton on the descent of the Passo Mortirolo. Although he was caught by his rivals, the form he showed hinted that there is more to come for the Italian cyclist in his last Giro.

Stage 17 has almost 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) of climbing along the 168-kilometer route from Ponte di Legno to Lavarone.