Italian rider Damiano Cima celebrates in style after winning the 18th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday. Photo: Alessandro di Meo/EPA

SANTA MARIA DI SALA – Italy’s Damiano Cima of the Nippo team snatched victory with a sprint finish, holding off a late charging peloton in Thursday’s 18th stage of the Giro d’Italia as Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz holds the leader’s pink jersey with three days left.

Cima had been part of a long range breakaway edged and edged Germany’s Pascal Ackermann, who headed up the charging peloton, on the line after nearly five hours in the saddle, with Italy’s Simone Consonni, third for UAE-Emirates.

Ackermann could later console himself after regaining the sprint points jersey, while the winner was left in a state of euphoria.

“I can’t believe what just happened. I’ve spent so many kilometres in breakaways during this Giro. I thought I’d never make it but I’ve won today,” said the rider from Brescia, whose only previous win was a stage in the Tour of China last year.

“It’s insane, the dream of a lifetime.” 

There was no change among the top three with Movistar’s Carapaz holding his 1min 54sec advantage over Italy’s former two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali, with Slovenian Primoz Roglic third at 2min 16sec.

“It’s been a quiet stage, but a long one, intense at the beginning only,” said Carapaz. 

“I’ve had good support from my team again. Tomorrow will be an important test, but I’m confident of keeping the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey).”

It was an eventful stage which got under way in Valdaora in the Dolomites.

Cima formed a three-man breakaway after 50km along with Mirco Maestri and Nico Denz, building up a maximum advantage of four and a half minutes on the pink jersey group.

The 222km stage gave the remaining sprinters a final chance as the route dropped to sea level, through the Venetian hinterlands to Santa Maria di Sala, concluding with a 2km sprint for the line.

Friday’s 19th stage returns to the mountains with a 151km run between Treviso and San Martino di Castrozza, concluding with a final 13.6km climb with a 5.6 percent gradient, on the eve of the big stage in the Dolomites.