Team Jayco Alula’s Filippo Zana celebrates winning stage 18 of Giro d’Italia from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo in Italy on Thursday. VAL DI ZOLDO: Italian Filippo Zana of Jayco-AlUla won a gruelling stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday after fending off Thibaut Pinot, while Geraint Thomas celebrated his 37th birthday in style by tightening his grip on the leader’s maglia rosa jersey. The 18th stage was one for the climbers on a 161-kilometre ride from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo, with Zana beating Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) to the finish line for his first Giro victory. Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic) crossed the line third, well behind the top two. “I still can’t believe it. I have to thank the team because they gave me this opportunity,” Italian champion Zana said. “In the finale I played my cards right, it was an opportunity that comes around a few times in life and I took it. To win with the tricolour jersey is special.” Pinot and Zana were part of a six-man breakaway which built up a lead of four-and-a-half minutes to the peloton with 10km to go, but the duo dropped their companions on the steep Alpine slopes as they surged to the finish line. In the overall standings, Ineos Grenadiers rider Thomas extended his lead at the top to 29 seconds, with Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) leap-frogging Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) into second. Thomas was made to work hard, as he clung to the wheel of Roglic throughout the final stretch, while Almeida did well to remain in touch with the pair after momentarily looking like he would be left behind by his GC rivals. “To gain time on Almeida and not get dropped by Primoz is a good day,” Welshman Thomas said. “I felt pretty good, in control. Primoz likes to go hard, easy, hard. I gave him a few turns and wasn’t sure how he was feeling but then in the last 2km he really squeezed on again. He was really strong but I’m happy with how I was. “It’s nice (to gain time on Almeida) but Primoz had a bad day the other day, Almeida today. I’ve just got to keep being consistent. Just take it day by day, climb by climb.” Thursday’s stage served as a warm-up for Friday’s punishing 183-km ride from Longarone to Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, which involves a long and slow climb at the start before three challenging category one ascents, with a total altitude gain of 5,400 metres.