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Tim Merlier of Soudal Quick-Step secured a thrilling sprint victory on Stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia by narrowly beating Jonathan Milan of Lidl-Trek at the finish line. Despite losing touch with their lead-out trains in the final kilometer, both riders improvised impressively to reach the forefront of the sprint. Milan seemed to have the edge in speed endurance, but it was Merlier who ultimately celebrated the victory, much to Milan’s frustration.

The 178km stage from Fiera di Primiero to Padova was intended as a straightforward transitional day for the riders sandwiched between two challenging mountain stages. However, heavy rain complicated what was expected to be a leisurely ride, with the battle for the breakaway fiercely contested in the early downhill sections. Edoardo Affini made several attempts to break away, but was constantly thwarted by the Alpecin-Deceuninck team, preventing him from getting away.

A group of four riders managed to break away and maintain a lead on the sole categorized climb of the day, with hopes of staying ahead until the final sprint at Martellago. Despite their efforts, the quartet was always within sight of the peloton, who gradually reeled them in over the course of the race. As the finish line in Padova approached, sprint teams and GC squads positioned themselves for the final sprint, with Tudor Pro Cycling and Merlier’s teammates providing crucial support.

In a chaotic final kilometer with multiple road narrowings and widenings, the sprinters jostled for position, leading to uncertainty as to who would come out on top. Merlier and Milan found themselves off their preferred wheels and had to navigate through the pack to launch their sprints. In a tense finish, Merlier emerged victorious, claiming his first Grand Tour stage win beyond the opening week and his best placing since a previous victory earlier in the race.

Despite the challenges posed by the weather and the intensity of the sprint, all general classification riders made it safely to the finish, setting the stage for the final mountain stages on Friday and Saturday before the Giro d’Italia concludes in Rome on Sunday. Merlier’s triumph on Stage 18 represents a significant milestone in his career, showcasing his ability to adapt and succeed in challenging circumstances and silencing any doubters who may have questioned his capabilities.

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