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De Bondt wins last flat stage of Giro d’Italia; Carapaz still leads

105th Giro d'Italia 2022 - Stage 18

TREVISO, ITALY - MAY 26: (L-R) Magnus Cort Nielsen of Denmark and Team EF Education - Easypost, Dries De Bondt of Belgium and Team Alpecin - Fenix, Davide Gabburo of Italy and Team Bardiani CSF Faizane’ and Edoardo Affini of Italy and Team Jumbo - Visma sprint to win during the 105th Giro d’Italia 2022, Stage 18 a 156km stage from Borgo Valsugana to Treviso / #Giro / #WorldTour / on May 26, 2022 in Treviso, Italy. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

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TREVISO, Italy -- Belgian rider Dries De Bondt won a four-man sprint to take the last flat stage of a Giro d’Italia that looks like being decided on the last day.

Richard Carapaz, the 2019 champion and Tokyo Olympics gold medalist, maintained a three-second lead in the overall standings from Australia’s Jai Hindley, who was runner-up in 2020.

Hindley had a tire puncture within the final three kilometers of the stage - which were neutralized, meaning he was given the same finishing time as the other leaders he was riding with when he had to stop for mechanical help.

Mikel Landa stayed third overall, 1:05 behind Carapaz.

The remaining three stages will determine the winner: Grueling mountain legs followed by a hilly individual time trial that ends the race in Verona.

“I checked Landa and Hindley all the time as I knew there could be some gaps,” Carapaz said. “I want to keep the maglia rosa till the end, I trust in my legs.”

Joao Almeida, the Portuguese rider who stood fourth overall, withdrew before the 18th stage after testing positive for COVID-19. Almeida was 1:54 behind Carapaz.

Two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali -- who plans to retire at the end of the season -- moved up to fourth, although he remained nearly six minutes off the lead.

The stage ended with a flat circuit around Treviso to conclude a 156-kilometer (97-mile) route from Borgo Valsugana that included two fourth-category climbs.

De Bondt, who rides for the Alpecin-Fenix team, was part of an early four-man breakaway and he sprinted past Edoardo Affini and Magnus Cort Nielsen at the line.

“We did a good operation with the other escapees in the final kilometers to keep the peloton behind, and then we had to focus on Magnus who is a very fast rider,” De Bondt said. “It’s my first win in a GT (Grand Tour), I can’t believe it. It was a dream to achieve a win like this.”