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Unleashing his characteristic uphill surge, Philippe Gilbert powered to a clear victory on the twelfth stage of the Giro d’Italia, finishing three seconds clear of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani CSF) and Paolo Tiralongo (Astana).
The next riders were gapped slightly on the ramp, with third-placed Mikel Landa (Astana) a further three seconds back in tenth and fifth-placed Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) at the same deficit. Richie Porte also finished close by.
Others lost more time; Contador’s closest rival Fabio Aru (Astana) finished towards the rear of the split group, slipping backwards on that last climb and crossing the line 11 seconds down on Gilbert.
Also conceding the same margin was Aru’s team-mate Dario Cataldo (Astana), who had started the day fourth overall.
Gilbert made his move on the short, steep final climb to the finish at Vicenza, dropping his rivals and clocking up his second career Giro stage win. He was very satisfied to take the victory, not least because it came one day after big disappointment.
“It was a very hard stage, very fast at the beginning,” he said. “Yesterday we worked hard together. At the end I didn’t make it, I was not able to do it because I was empty at the end. We decided to let it go.
“I was very disappointed yesterday night. I almost didn’t sleep as I was very disappointed with myself. I was scared that the team lost confidence in myself. It was a hard moment.
“But today we had we had a big meeting and the sport directors gave us the confidence. We said, okay, we go for it today. But we decided not to work at the beginning. We wanted to save ourselves for the final. I think it was the right decision.”
Gilbert had long targeted the stage, believing it was right for him. In fact, he had been thinking about it for two months.
“I came to look at this stage after Milan Sanremo, and I knew every detail of the final 70 kilometres,” he said. “Fabio Baldato was in the team car, giving encouragement and information. The finish was very hard, and the weather was horrible – not cold, but wet – but the final 400m went perfectly. It’s a great feeling.”
Contador’s second place confirms he has recovered from his partially dislocated shoulder. He is looking aggressive once again and, importantly, he picked up both a time bonus and also a confidence boost on the stage.
As a result of the time gained, Contador has increased his advantage over Aru from three to 17 seconds and over Landa from 46 to 55. Cataldo, who had been fourth at one minute 16 seconds, stayed in the same position but his 25th place on the stage saw his own deficit grow to one minute 30.
Richie Porte, who had sat third overall until he suffered a puncture on stage ten and was handed a two minute time penalty for talking a wheel from Simon Clarke (Orica GreenEdge), finished six seconds behind Gilbert and three behind Contador in 12th place.
The race leader is looking stronger and sounding more confident. “It was another very hard day,” he said. “We rode the first two hours at about 50 kilometres per hour, then the rain started. The peloton broke apart with the high speeds, but I had good legs. Philippe Gilbert was very strong on the final climb, but I was thinking of the general classification and I’m very happy with the outcome today.”
He said that his Tinkoff-Saxo team was trying to strike the balance between keeping a grip on the race and not doing too much.
“We are trying to avoid any risks and problems, trying to use our intelligence on the race and looking at each situation. Astana is still very strong. But I think we are quite well organised and I think it was another good day for us.”
The race continues Friday with a 147 kilometre race from Montecchio Maggiore to Jesolo. It is extremely flat and looks destined for a bunch sprint. It is also the stage before the crucial 59.4 kilometre Valdobbiadene time trial and so the general classification riders will likely concentrate on staying out of trouble and saving as much energy as possible.
How it played out:
Extending 190 kilometres from Imola to Vicenza, the 12th stage of the Giro d’Italia had a pan flat parcours for the first 125 kilometres before things got much lumpier. The day’s break pushed clear 70 kilometres after the drop of the flag and together Nick van der Lijke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Patrick Gretsch (AG2R-La Mondiale), Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), Enrico Barbin (Bariani-CSF) and Davide Appollonio (Androni-Giocattoli) worked hard to try to get a decent buffer.
However their chances of getting a decent gap were foiled by the Orica GreenEdge team, which chased and stopped the gap growing. With little under 60 kilometres left the bunch hauled them back, after which Lotto-Soudal’s Louis Vervaeke began a solo bid for success. He was caught on the climbs 30 kilometres from the end, after which Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) picked up more points to pad his lead in the King of the Mountains competition.
Behind him, Alberto Contador showed that he was back to full form when he stretched his legs and scored psychological points against his rivals.
Orica GreenEdge had been working for Simon Gerrans, much to the frustration of Michael Matthews, who also wanted a chance. The former lost his chance when he fell on a wet descent.
The undulating roads and slippery downhills created a selection of riders, reducing the list of those in contention to below 50.
Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli) was feeling aggressive and made his move with 16 kilometres left. Behind, Tinkoff-Saxo were setting the pace for Alberto Contador, with Michael Rogers leading inside 14 to go. Aru was three places further back, trying to keep a close eye on his rival.
With 13.3 kilometres left Steven Kruiswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) attacked and was let go. Meanwhile Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) was getting back on after losing contact on the descent, and was thinking about trying to land a second stage win in the race.
As Pellizotti reached the 13 kilometre to go point, Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) attacked. Contador followed him without problems and then the Astana team moved to the front. They picked up Kruiswijk and started the descent 17 seconds behind Pellizotti.
With ten kilometres to go the descending Pellizotti was 13 seconds clear. He was chased by Astana, with Aru and Contador sitting fourth and fifth in line. Porte was further back.
Tanel Kangert (Astana Pro Team) then attacked, trying to get up to Pellizotti. Further back, Gilbert was keen to try to land his second career stage win and was chomping at the bit to get going. Although he could simply have waited for the final climb, he pushed forward on the descent and was joined by Ion Izagirre (Movistar Team). Meanwhile Kangert was getting closer to Pellizotti, who was clearly tiring.
Kangert finally got up to the leader with 5.7 kilometres left and immediately attacked. However the Italian covered him and the two pushed on ahead. Despite Kangert being out front, his Astana team continued to ride behind as they headed under the five kilometre to go banner, mopping up Gilbert and Izagirre.
The BMC Racing Team then took over at the front, trying to get Gilbert back into a position where he could try for the win.
The big question was if the two leaders could stay clear until the end. They had raised their advantage to 30 seconds with two kilometres remaining, giving them a chance. However the chase behind trimmed that down to 21 seconds going under the kite.
Kangert was going most of the work and led Pellizotti into the final 600 metres. He ramped up the speed and pulled clear, but the BMC Racing Team was riding hard behind and getting close.
Gilbert went and was followed by Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) and Contador. Gilbert was too strong, though, and pulled clear all the way to the line. Contador came in second, taking a time bonus, while Aru finished towards the back of the bunch and seems to be weakening after his earlier strong showing.
Giro d'Italia (2.UWT) Imola → Vicenza (Monte Berico)
Astana Pro Team