Opportunity lost: Brambilla and Bennett squabble their way out of Giro stage contention
It was not a masterclass in stage hunting, or even an elementary class.
As Andrea Vendrame (AG2R Citroën) topped Chris Hamilton (DSM) to win stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, a few seconds behind was a pair of frustrated riders who had ridden themselves out of contention for the victory only a few minutes prior.
Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo) and George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) had been in position to follow the late move spurred by Hamilton with around 3 km to go, but instead of giving chase, they looked at each other and let the move go.
The context here matters: Brambilla, a Giro stage winner, has a good sprint and would have had a shot at the win if the group stayed together. Bennett, all 58 kg of him, is quite the opposite. To win, he’d need to go solo; his obligations to keep a small group together were nonexistent. Both were trying to secure victory in different ways, and both ended up nullifying the other.
Frustrations that had been building over the final climb and into the finale continued through the finish line and beyond. Brambilla swerved in front of Bennett in their sprint for third and although he crossed the line first, the Italian was later relegated to fourth. After the finish, Bennett explained that he had not wanted to close every move down in the finale knowing that he was “not going to win the sprint.” Brambilla, meanwhile, had some choice words for Bennett, saying, “Sometimes it’s better to watch some racing on TV so you can learn how to do it.”
The on-bike dispute seemed to start as the breakaway riders made their way up the day’s final climb and onto the descent. Bennett and Brambilla both put in digs on the climb, but Bennett also allowed gaps to open up to Vendrame or Hamilton, forcing Brambilla to come through and pull. That happened a final time with around 4 km to go. Then, with 3 km to go and Brambilla now sitting in front of Bennett, Hamilton made a move off the front.
Vendrame was quick to chase, and Brambilla also jumped out of the saddle for a few seconds – but then he sat up and looked back at Bennett, who did not pull through.
Within moments, Hamilton and Vendrame were clear and the stage win was gone with them.
After the stage, Brambilla did not make much of an effort to hide his anger at Bennett when asked to address what had happened between the two over the course of the stage.
“I have nothing to say,” Brambilla said. “Just ask George Bennett how to lose the race.”
For his part, Bennett said that it was “frustrating” when a race came down to “playing games,” but explained that he was riding in a way that made sense for a lighter rider without the fastest finishing kick.
“I’m not going to win the sprint so I have to gamble … If I was a fast guy, I would have ridden that differently,” he said. “You just cover everything and try to go for the sprint but if you’re 58 kilos and struggle to break 1,000 watts, then what’s the point of keeping it together for the sprint? It was the same on the climb, unfortunately we hit quite a big headwind and you can go as many times as you like but if everybody’s looking at you and on your wheel then at some point what more can you do?”