No changes in the GC, with Rodriguez leading Hesjedal by 30 seconds and Basso by 1:22.
San Vito di Cadore - Vedelago
Giro d'Italia - 24 May 2012
Giro d'Italia – Follow this cycling race live with Eurosport. The action starts at 19:50 on 24 May 2012. Our live coverage lets you follow all the key moments as they happen.
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Confirmation of the result of stage 18: 1. Guardini, 2. Cavendish, 3. Ferrari, 4. Hunter, 5. Haedo.
Cavendish may have lost second to Ferrari too - he really faded at the end, the mountains clearly taking their toll. We'll have to see the replays...
Andrea Guardini comes through with a huge surge and Cavendish does not have the strength to keep up - victory for the Farnese Vini youngster!
Thomas launches Cavendish, who has Chicchi on his wheel... and Ferrari.
Under the banner and Eisel finds a gap and pulls Cavendish through with Thomas...
Cavendish about 12 riders back. It's still Saxo on the front.
Sky have been crowded out, but Cavendish still has Eisel and Thomas.
It's all Saxo Bank now, with five riders on the front. NetApp are coming forward too, working for their man Daniel Shorn.
QuickStep and Sky front the peloton, with Saxo and FDJ getting primed. Farnese too.
Bak and Delage still out ahead but they have just half a dozen seconds now. And they're sitting up... Game on.
The jostling starts back in the peloton. Cavendish has to win today if he wants any hopes of taking the red jersey all the way to Milan.
The leaders approach a big left-hander - that is the last bend of the day, the rest of the stage is straight.
Now Sky drive the pace in a bid to reel in the two leaders, Delage and Bak. The gap is 10 seconds. Cavendish is a bit further back, tucked in behind Thomas and Eisel. Surely the world champion is the man to beat today.
QuickStep are coming to the front of the peloton in numbers - they'd love a win for their man Francesco Chicchi. Meanwhile, Bak and Delage are eight seconds out ahead.
Keizer, Kaisen and Clement have sat up from the leading group. Delage rode on solo before being caught by Bak. Two riders out ahead.
Attack from Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol) in the peloton! The stage 12 winner has set off in pursuit of the leaders.
Lampre bring Scarponi back into the peloton without too much ado. The four leaders now have just 25 seconds on the bunch.
Mechanical problem for Michele Scarponi, who is off the back of the peloton and waiting for his team car. He has five Lampre team-mates ready to pace him back. The Italian is fourth in the GC at 1:36 - and for the second successive day, he'll have to fight to get back with the leaders.
Still Stannard sets the pace with a lone QuickStep man tucked in just behind and ahead of the entire Katusha team. Spain's Juan Antonio Flecha is now edging forward to lend a hand to Stannard. The gap is 1:02.
The gap has crept back up to 50 seconds. The four leaders are combining well, but you have to fancy the peloton's chances of bringing this back together. They are approaching the town of Cornuda.
It's Sky's Ian Stannard on the front - now that Jeremy Hunt has returned home for the birth of his child, Stannard is Sky's go-to man when it comes to driving the pace. The four leaders are 37 seconds ahead.
The leaders pass the 40km-to-go banner with 44 seconds over the pack, which will surely not let them stay out for too long. Sky have one man on the front, with a QuickStep rider in his wheel. Then we have the Katusha team of race leader Rodriguez in a long strip.
Rabobank could really do with a win today from Clement: they have had a fruitless Giro so far and have lost half their team to withdrawals. The gap is still around 50 seconds.
The four leaders - Kaisen, Keizer, Clement and Delage - are combining well and have 50 seconds over the peloton.
It looks like that initial counter break was swept up - with the exception of Kaisen - and another has formed. The other riders are Mickael Delage (FDJ), Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Stef Clement (Rabobank).
The leading six riders are: Sandy Casar (FDJ), Marco Pinotti (BMC), Emanuele Sella (Androni), Adam Hansen (Lotto), Maciej Bodnar (Liquigas) and Olivier Kaisen (Lotto). More attacks are coming off the front of the bunch.
Confirmation of the intermediate sprint at Cesiomaggiore: 1. Cavendish (8pts), 2. Spezialetti (6pts), 3. Thomas (4pts). Lampre's Spezialetti actually led out the sprint, but gave up once Cavendish came around him. In the end, Cav took it uncontested and then accepted a handshake from the Italian afterwards.
This new six-man break has two Lotto Belisol riders in it and is going fast. The gap is 11 seconds and the peloton has strung right out in pursuit.
Six riders off the front after a counter-attack following the intermediate sprint.
Cavendish takes the maximum eight points uncontested in the intermediate sprint at Cesiomaggiore. He's now nine ahead of Rodriguez and has a chance to take another 20 at the finish. Full results coming up.
They just won't give up: the four leaders are up and out of their saddles on a small incline - even as the peloton makes contact. Clement tries to continue a little longer, but to no avail. Gruppo compatto!
Boaro refuses to throw in the towel and drives the pace for the leaders despite the peloton breathing down their necks.
The pace is so fast in the bunch that several riders have been blown off the back. The peloton is just 15 seconds down on the leaders now, who will surely soon sit up and accept the inevitable.
Wow, the gap is just 35 seconds and so Sky will certainly reel in the break before the intermediate sprint.
The four breakaway riders only have 1:30 on the peloton, who could actually catch them before the intermediate sprint if the chase continues at this rate. Sky are obviously motivated to get maximum points for Mark Cavendish - the whole team is on the front driving the pace, including Cav and Uran. Stannard, that big unit, is dictating the tempo.
It will be interesting to see if Rodriguez or Katusha contest the intermediate sprint coming up. Presumably, Cavendish will try and pick up the maximum points for fifth place after this group - but J-Rod may be thinking of the red jersey as a hedge against his pink, should he lose it in the next two mountain stages, or on the streets of Milan for the ITT.
The leaders are onto a cobbled section in the busy market town of Belluno, where the public has all come out to show its support. This is what the Giro's about.
The four leaders are 2:35 ahead of the bunch now in this short stage of transition. Many of the peloton are taking this chance to have a bite - there is no official feeding zone today.
Team Sky's Rigoberto Uran is back in the white jersey today as the race's best young rider. The Colombian managed to stay with the big race favorites all the way to Cortina d'Ampezzo to dislodge his compatriot and team-mate Sergio Henao in the white jersey standings.
The four leaders are being kept on a leash by the peloton, which is fronted by Sky, Saxo Bank and Garmin-Barracuda. The lead is still 2:50.
Who do you think will win today's stage? And what about the next two hellish days in the Dolomites? And the overall win in Milan? Have your say in the comment box below...
Other names to throw into the hat for the win today (besides Cavendish, Modolo, Chicchi and Kristoff) are Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), Geoffrey Soupe (FDJ), Fabio Felline (Androni), Elia Favilli (Farnese Vini) and, of course, that man Roberto Ferrari (Androni). The Italian has already won a stage in this year's race following his controversial swerve that brought down Cavendish back in stage three. The gap for the four leaders is 2:50.
STAGE SUMMARY: mostly downhill, there are only two short climbs. The first one in Pieve di Cadore before the hairpins to Perarolo di Cadore. The second is before Cesiomaggiore, which hosts the intermediate Sprint after 84km. The rest of the route is on wide, well surfaced roads. Last 5km on almost flat country land. Last curve at 5km followed by a long and wide straight asphalted road up to the finish. Last 400 meters home stretch on 7-metre wide asphalted road.
Cavendish holds the red jersey for the points classification by just one slender point over race leader Joaquim Rodriguez, so a win today will be essential if the world champion wants to enter Milan with the red secure. The next two stages in the mountains will give Rodriguez much more of a chance to pick up points than Cav, that's for sure...
The lead has grown to 2:35. Those withdrawals overnight were Venezuela's Carlos Ochoa (Androni Giocattoli) and Martin Velits (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
Given the parcours, a break today was always inevitable - but so too is a bunch sprint at the end. There may be few out-and-out sprinters left in the race - following the withdrawl of the likes of Goss, Renshaw, Visconti etc - but there will still be enough riders to trouble world champion and red jersey Mark Cavendish of Team Sky. For instance: Sacha Modolo (Colnago), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Francesco Chicchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
BREAK: Four riders have made an early move on this fast downhill opening section of today's stage. In fact, they broke after just 2km of racing. They are: Manuele Boaro (Saxo Bank), Stef Clement (Rabobank), Pier Paolo De Negri (Farnese Vini) and Angelo Pagani (Colnago-CSF Inox). The lead grows quickly to over a minute...
Despite the huge battles on the Passo Giau yesterday, there was no change in the top three in the GC. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) leads Canada's Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) by 30 seconds at the top. Ivan Basso (Liquigas) is third at 1:22. But Astana pair Paolo Tiralongo and Roman Kreuziger - previously fourth and fifth - dropped after both losing time, the Czech more than 10 minutes.
It's another sunny day in the Giro, with temperatures around 20 degrees centigrade at the start.
They're off! Two withdrawals makes leaves the peloton with 167 riders with four stages to go.
Yesterday, Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez took his second win of the Giro d'Italia with victory in the mountainous 186km stage 17 to Cortina d'Ampezzo. Race leader Rodriguez (Katusha) outsprinted GC rival Ivan Basso (Liquigas) to lead a select group of six riders across the line and preserve his maglia rosa after a brutal day in the Dolomites.
Welcome to live coverage of stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia, a largely downhill affair that runs 149km from San Vito di Cadore to Vedelago.