Healy wins Giro stage while Leknessund hangs onto lead
Irishman Ben Healy soloed to victory on stage eight of the Giro d'Italia to claim a first grand tour stage win on debut as an attack from Primoz Roglic found signs of weakness in overall favourite Remco Evenepoel.
The 22-year-old Healy delivered on the huge promise he showed during the Classics campaign as he powered away from 12 breakaway companions to take on the final 50km of the 207km stage from Terni to Fossombrone alone, winning by almost two minutes from Derek Gee.
It was another two-and-a-half minutes until the first of the overall favourites crossed the line, but notably Roglic, Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart were 14 seconds ahead of Evenepoel and 34 ahead of race leader Andreas Leknessund after Roglic had attacked on the final climb of the Cappuccini.
That was the short but sharp climb on which Healy made his move on the first of two ascents, quickly opening up a sizable gap as his fellow escapees soon realised they would be fighting for second.
After Friday's stalemate on the Gran Sasso, this stage was built for a breakaway and delivered an attacking opening 70km as several riders tried to get up the road, including at one stage Leknessund in the pink jersey.
Healy, a rider raised in the West Midlands and who switched allegiance to Ireland in 2016, comfortably proved the strongest of the 13 that made it.
The EF Education-EasyPost rider announced his talents last month in the Ardennes with back-to-back seconds at De Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race and fourth place in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but this victory is on another level.
"If you can go solo, it's always better," Healy said. "I back myself in a long move. I didn't want to take any chances today so I went solo, I knew I had good legs and I managed to hold it to the finish.
"The last couple of months have been a whirlwind and to top it off with this is insane."
As Healy had been cresting the Cappuccini for the final time, Roglic attacked from the group of favourites at the bottom of it. Thomas and Geoghegan Hart paced back to the Slovenian but Evenepoel and Leknessund were left behind as the pack splintered.
Leknessund managed to hold on to pink going into Sunday's time trial, but perhaps for only one more day given his lead has shrunk to just eight seconds from Evenepoel, while Roglic is up to third, 38 seconds down.
Joao Almeida is fourth with Thomas fifth and Geoghegan Hart sixth, all within a minute of pink.
It was a positive end to the day for the Ineos Grenadiers after a morning on which they lost Italian powerhouse Filippo Ganna to COVID-19, the fourth rider in the race to test positive in the last three days.
Ganna has twice saved Thomas from time losses following incidents late in stages during the opening week and his absence might be keenly felt in the two weeks to come.
"It's surprising," Thomas said. "I only found out at breakfast. He's a big loss, an awesome rider who has helped already, twice he's got me back to the peloton when I needed some help. It's a shame but that's the way it is...
"Everyone else has tested, everyone else is OK and hopefully it stays that way."