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Merlier sprints to Giro 18th stage win as Pogacar keeps lead

Tim Merlier won the 18th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday in a messy bunch sprint as Tadej Pogacar held his massive lead on a quiet day for the champion-in-waiting.

Belgian Merlier pipped local hero Jonathan Milan over the line in Padova after 178 kilometres of riding to claim his second victory in this year’s Giro.

The Soudal-Quick Step rider had to hold off Milan in the final few metres despite both him and his Italian rival being boxed in towards the chaotic climax of the race.

“Coming from the back is not that easy but we managed well to find a good position,” said Merlier.

“I could feel someone coming on the left… then I saw it was Milan on my left and I jumped. A really good jump was necessary.”

Merlier’s battles with Milan, who retains the cyclamen jersey prized by sprinters thanks to a 127-point lead over Kaden Groves, have been a feature of this Giro.

Milan had used Merlier’s wheel to burst through and claim the 11th stage while Merlier also edged Milan on stage three.

The Giro has one more opportunity for the sprinters, in Sunday’s final day procession around Rome, with Merlier eyeing a chance to move level at three stage wins this year with Milan.

“It would be nice to have 3-3 but we will see,” added Merlier.

Pogacar is seven minutes and 42 seconds ahead of Daniel Martinez with three stages left as he closes in on overall victory in the Italian Grand Tour.

UAE rider Pogacar is bidding to become the first man to win both the Giro and the Tour de France since the late Marco Pantini in 1998.

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