Filippo Ganna's irresistible run of form continued as the young Italian powerhouse added a first-ever Grand Tour road stage win to his name following his recent time trial victories in the World Championships and opening stage of the Giro d'Italia.
Not content with a maglia rosa on the first day of his maiden Giro on top of his rainbow jersey from Imola, Ganna added the Giro's maglia azzurra to his expanding wardrobe by showcasing his uphill ability on the dark and misty decisive climb in Stage 5, where he laid down the foundations on an emotional victory which eased the pressure from Ineos Grenadiers following the withdrawal of team leader Geraint Thomas.
Part of an initial eight-man breakaway in the 225km stage through the rolling hills of Calabria, Ganna powered clear of his fellow escapees on the final climb before holding off a two-man chase and the returning peloton on the wet and slippery descent to the finish in Camigliatello Silano.
Ganna's eighth professional win was the 24-year-old's first, triumph outside his favoured time trial discipline and came on a stage which featured a whopping 4,700 metres of climbing and hardly a stretch of flat road
Austria's Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) led the chasing pack over the line 34 seconds behind the lone leader, with Portugal's Joao Almeida (Deceuninck Quick-Step) taking third place and four bonus seconds to consolidate his grip on the maglia rosa.
With Stage 3 winner Jonathan Caicedo (EF Pro Cycling) fading on the 24km decisive climb, Almeida stretched his advantage at the top of the standings to 43 seconds over Spain's Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren), with Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) up to the third place at 49 seconds.
But the day belonged indisputably to Ganna, who not only managed to ride clear of his seven fellow escapees, but defied a chasing duo of Belgium's Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Einer Rubio (Movistar) before holding off the double Giro winner and downhill phenomenon Vincenzo Nibali, who led the chasing pack in testing conditions in southern Italy.
A second stage win in five days is a classy return from a rider who proved on Wednesday to be so much more than the sum of his time trial specialism parts.
EIGHT-MAN MOVE AFTER FAST START
The longest stage of the race so far – and the first of eight stages above two-hundred kilometres – Wednesday's 225km schlep through Calabria was played out under stormy skies and intermittent showers.
With the peloton swallowing up 51.2km over the first hour, the zippy pace was hardly conducive to a successful breakaway steeling a march in the toe of Italy. Specialist De Gendt and the maglia ciclamino Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) saw their early efforts to forge ahead thwarted before Ineos Grenadiers duo Ganna and Salvatore Puccio rode clear with Carl Fredrik Hagen (Lotto Soudal) and Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-McLaren).
The quartet were joined by Jhonatan Restrepo (Androni-Giocattoli-Sidermec), Hector Carretero (Movistar), Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) and Edoardo Zardini (Vini Zabu-KTM) ahead of the intermediate sprint and two back-to-back third-category climbs.
With the eight leaders effectively neutralising the battle for ciclamino points, Sagan and his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates were happy to let the move go, allowing the Deceuninck Quick-Step team of race leader Almeida to come to the front to control the tempo.
The gap hit a maximum five minutes as Italian Zardini went over the top of the two climbs ahead of Spain's Carretero to pocket 18 points and move up into provisional second position in the blue jersey king of the mountains standings, behind the Ecuadorian champion Caicedo, Monday's winner on Mount Etna.
Persistent drizzle and slippery roads made for some nervous racing as the stage played out in a sort of stalemate until the long final climb, moments after Hagen, the best placed rider on GC, won the second intermediate sprint in Cosenza.
Norway's Hagen, a surprise top 10 finisher in his maiden Vuelta in 2019, was the first escapee to be dropped once the road ramped up on the 24.2km first-category climb of Valico di Montescuro. He was joined by the Colombian Restrepo off the back of the break as six riders rode clear with a two-minute advantage.
In pursuit of a first pro win, Carretero put in a series of accelerations to whittle down the leading group – but on each occasion Ganna (despite his lofty 1.93m height and comparatively hefty bulk of 76kg) was able to time-trial his way back onto the Spaniard's wheel.
They were soon joined by De Gendt and the Combian Rubio, who attacked from the main pack shortly after the start of the climb. But after the Belgian did all the hard work in the chase, the two were at loggerheads as Ganna slipped into the big ring, got down on the drops, and rode clear a few kilometres from the summit.
As the gloom descended upon the mountain in the form of a dense mist which made the race feel like it was being held at midnight, Ganna suddenly pulled out a gap of 45 seconds on his pursuers, who were soon swept up by the peloton.
Nibali's Trek-Segafredo team and Kelderman's Team Sunweb did the lions share of the tempo-setting behind before Astana took things up near the summit for their Danish GC hope Jakob Fuglsang.
But it was a case of too little, too late as Ganna crested the summit with over a minute to play with. As the rain then came pounding down, Ganna was able to maintain his advantage despite pressure behind from Italy's Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling) and Nibali.
At one point, Ganna had to ask the TV cameraman for confirmation of the time gap as he entered the final few kilometres – and when he heard the reply, you could almost see the smile cross his face.
The 24-year-old managed to avoid any spills on the glassy resurfaced roads before making light work of a slight ramp to the line safe in the knowledge that the victory was in the bag. With the win came a blue jersey to go alongside his rainbow jersey – capping off a remarkable fortnight for the giant Italian.
Portugal's Almeida showed his class behind by sprinting for third place to strengthen his grip on the pink jersey in what is proving to be another superb maiden Grand Tour for the Portuguese youngster.
The Giro continues on Thursday with the 180km Stage 6 from Castrovillari to Matera which features rolling roads but just the one lower-category climb ahead of a ramped finish in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
All the action from GIRO D'ITALIA Stage 6 - Castrovillari - Matera will be LIVE on Eurosport and Eurosport HD from 4:00 PM IST onward on October 8, 2020.