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With a powerful uphill sprint on the short Monte Berico, Gilbert put 3 seconds into his nearest rivals to win stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia; Contador took second, put time into Aru and extended his overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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DIEGO ULISSI

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GIRO D'ITALIA

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PHILIPPE GILBERT

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21.05.2015 @ 17:56 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Philippe Gilbert (BMC) looked like his former self when he took a hugely dominant victory in the uphill sprint on the Monte Berico in Vicenza at the end of stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia. The Belgian was in a class of his own as he put 3 seconds into his nearest rivals who were led home by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), and as Fabio Aru (Astana) suffered in the finale, Contador extended his overall lead to 17 seconds.

 

In 2011, Philippe Gilbert was unstoppable and won almost every bike race he entered. Since then it has been a harder time for the Belgian who has faced lots of questions about his sudden decrease in performance level.

 

The 2015 season has not been much better for Gilbert who has been marred by bad luck. A strong Michael Matthews prevented him from winning the Amstel Gold Race and when he crashed in Fleche Wallonne, he left the Ardennes classics empty-handed.

 

The Giro d’Italia was already on his schedule but with his lack of results, it was suddenly an opportunity for redemption. He had hoped to take the maglia rosa in a first week that was tailor-made for him but as he was still suffering from his injuries, he missed that opportunity.

 

That left him with the goal of taking a stage win and his biggest opportunity came in stages 11 and 12. After he came up short yesterday, he only had one real chance to take that elusive victory in today’s stage that finished on the short, steep Monte Berico in Vicenza.

 

Gilbert managed to grab that final chance with both hands as he turned out to be in a class of his own when he completed an excellent BMC performance by sprinting clear of a select group of favourites that had been whittled down by the combination of hard climbing and lots of crashes on the wet descents. In fact, he looked like his former self when he powered clear to put 3 seconds into his nearest rivals in a finish that was tailor-made for him.

 

Things were not looking too for Gilbert a little earlier in the race when several crashes on the wet descent from the Crosara climb had split the peloton to pieces. As they hit the flats with 20km to go, he found himself in a second group alongside teammate Damiano Caruso while a first group with Tanel Kangert, Fabio Aru, Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), Richie Porte (Sky), Andrey Amador, Ion Izagirre (Movistar), Damiano Cunego (Nippo), Rigoberto Uran and David de la Cruz (Etixx-QuickStep) had gone clear. Kangert was setting a fast pace that made it very hard for anyone to rejoin them.

 

Luckily, Gilbert was with Tinkoff-Saxo riders Michael Rogers and Roman Kreuziger who wanted to make it back to Contador and the Australian did a massive work to bring them back with 16km to go. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r), Mikel Landa (Astana), Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani), Gilbert, Caruso, Jurgen van den Broeck, Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal), Benat Intxausti (Movistar), Salvatore Puccio, Leopold König (Sky), Kreuziger, Rogers and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) were the riders who got back in contention.

 

Pellizotti used a small standstill to attack and he hit the bottom of a small climb with 14km to go with a small advantage. Rogers hit the front to keep the pace steady while Yury Trofimov (Katusha) rejoined the peloton.

 

Another group with riders like Simon Geschke, Dario Cataldo, Amael Moinard, Silvan Dillier, Michael Matthews, Sebastien Reichenbach, Grega Bole, Fabio Felline, Ryder Hesjedal and Giovanni Visconti also made it back and finally Diego Ulissi and Darwin Atapuma also got back in contention. At the same time, Kruijswijk attacked, trying to bridge the gap to Pellizotti.

 

Visconit was the next to attack but he was closely marked by Contador and the rest of the peloton. This spelled the end for Kruijswijk who was brought back as Tiralongo took over the pace-setting.

 

Kangert hit the front on the wet descent and he reduced Pellizotti’s advantage from 20 to 10 seconds. However, the Estonian was going so fast and he got an unintentional gap.

 

Having hit the flat roads, he decided to continue and he made it across to Pellizotti. Meanwhile, Rigoberto Uran made the group split on the descent and this opened the door for Gilbert and Izagirre to attack.

 

The group got back together and as Tiralongo started to chase, Gilbert and Izagirre were brought back. However, Kangert and Pellizotti were riding strongly and they entered the final 5km with an advantage of 20 seconds.

 

BMC started to chase with Moinard and later Intxausti also came to the fore. With 2km to go, the gap had gone out to 30 seconds and so BMC were forced to also use Dilllier for the chase.

 

Kangert and Pellizotti hit the 1.2km climb of Monte Berico with a 20-second advantage but now BMC were doing a full lead-out. While Kangert distanced Pellizotti, Dillier, Atapuma and Caruso took some huge turns but when the latter swung off, Gilbert found himself in the wind too early.

 

Pellizotti had been brought back but Kangert was still several seconds ahead. After a brief hesitation, Gilbert launched a long sprint and when he hit the gas, the outcome was never in doubt. He flew past Kangert and easily distanced his rivals to take the win.

 

Behind the group was splintering and it was Paolo Tiralongo who looked like his nearest rival. However, the veteran started to fade and instead Contador made a surge to take second, holding off Ulissi who had no energy left to do a sprint. Aru faded on the climb and was caught out behind the splits, losing 8 seconds to Contador.

 

As he also picked up 6 bonus seconds, Contador extended his lead over Aru to 17 seconds. He takes it into tomorrow’s completely flat stage 13 which has no climbing at all and should be a chance for the sprinters to get their revenge after yesterday’s failure.

 

A tough finale

After yesterday’s hilly stage, it was time for more climbing in stage 12 which brought the riders over 190km from Imola to a summit finish on the short Monte Berico on the outskirts of Vicenza. After a completely flat first part, the climbing started at the 130km mark when the riders tackled a small category 4 climb but it was the category 3 Crosara climb which was the main challenge. The summit was located with 27km to go and then there was another small climb to tackle before the riders got to the 1.2km to the finish. The final 500m had an average gradient of more than 10% and so it was expected to be a day for puncheurs.

 

For the second day in a row, the riders had rainy conditions when they gathered for the start and today they even had to tackle a strong wind too. However, that didn’t dampen their attacking spirit and it was a brutally fast start to the stage.

 

A brutal start

After 10km of racing, no one had managed to get clear. Sky and Lampre-Merida were very active in controlling the peloton while Nippo-Vini Fantini were among the many aggressors. However, it was still all together when Fabio Sabatini (Etixx-QuickStep) took off at the 22km mark.

 

Sabatini was brought back and instead Marco Frapporti (Androni), Nick van der Lijke (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Giacomo Berlato (Nippo-Vini Fantini) formed what seemed to be a promising move. However, they had no luck either and it was a compact peloton that reached the 30km mark.

 

Belletti abandons

Mauro Finetto (Southeast) was the next to try but he was also brought back. The subsequent moves didn’t work either and things were still together after the first hour during which the riders had covered no less than 52.2km.

 

While the attacking continued, Southeast sprinter Manuel Belletti left the race. From his team car, he could watch the attacking continue until a promising move was formed after 71km of racing.

 

The break is formed

Patrick Gretsch (Ag2r), Enrico Barbin (Bardiani), Davide Appollonio (Androni), Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) and Nick van der Lijke (LottoNL-Jumbo) quickly got an advantage of 30 second and as the peloton finally stepped off the gas, the gap quickly went out to 2.25 after 75km of very fast racing.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE quickly took control of the peloton with Michael Hepburn and Brett Lancaster and they brought the gap down to 1.30. For a while, they kept it between 1.30 and 2.00 before they got some assistance from Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) and Ruben Fernandez (Movistar). Meanwhile, Barbin beat Gretsch and Appollonio in the first intermediate sprint.

 

A big fight for position

The conditions were now very windy and even though it was mainly a headwind, the peloton had now become very nervous. All the big teams lined out their teams near the front and swamped the riders who had been doing the pace-setting.

 

With 73km to go, rain started to fall and this only made the peloton even more nervous. As a consequence, the gap came down quickly and when Atapuma and Betancur went down in a small crash, it was already down to 1.05.

 

A sprint for points

Etixx-QuickStep took complete control with Keisse and when they got to the second intermediate sprint with 64km to go, he had already brought the gap down to 30 seconds. Here van der Lijke, Barbin and Appollonio sprinted for the points and they crossed the line in that order. Further back, points leader Nicola Boem (Bardiani) managed to beat Elia Viviani (Sky) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) in the battle for the remaining points.

 

With 60km to go, the break was caught but Gretsch, van der Lijke and Appollonio managed to reopen their advantage as the pace briefly went down. However, Tinkoff-Saxo quickly took control with Christopher Juul and so Gretsch was the only surviving escapee when they hit the first categorized climb.

 

KOM points for Geschke

While Ulissi fought his way back from a puncture, Gianfranco Zilioli (Androni) attacked and he flew past Gretsch who was brought back. The Italian extended his advantage while riders started to get dropped.

 

Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) was the next to attack and he was quickly joined by Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) and Betancur. The German passed everybody else and crested the summit as the lone leader while Ziloli fell back to the chase group that had been joined by Intxausti. The Spaniard held off Betancur in the sprint for second.

 

Vervaeke takes off

Geschke, Betancur and Intxausti waited for the peloton while Vervaeke attacked on the descent. For a long time, Zilioli dangled 15 seconds behind while Matteo Tosatto (Tinkoff-Saxo) set a steady pace in the peloton which was distanced by 1.10 with 47km to go.

 

Vervaeke extended his advantage over Zilioli on the flat roads leading towards the bottom of the Crosara climb and so the Italian decided to sit up. Meanwhile, Tinkoff-Saxo briefly tried to attack in the crosswinds with Tosatto, Ivan Rovny, Michael Rogers and Sergio Paulinho taking some turns before all the work was left to the Italian and the Russian.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo in control

Paulinho took over with 33km to go and as they started to climb, the gap was only 8 secomds. Rovny took a short turn to bring Vervaeke back and then Ivan Basso took over.

 

Lots of riders were getting dropped and when Rogers was the next to set the pace, even Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) was distanced. A little later Intxausti attacked while Atapuma and Visconti took off in pursuit.

 

Contador attacks

Kreuziger was now leading the peloton before Contador made an attack. He never got a gap but the acceleration spelled the end for Visconti and Ataopuma.

 

Intxausti crested the summit as the first rider before Betancur beat Visconti in the sprint for second. The Basque decided to wait for the peloton and while Kangert took over the pace-setting, Geniez attacked.

 

Gerrans goes down

The Frenchman got a big gap but was about to crash several times as he went down the wet descent. Meanwhile, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), Atapuma,  Davide Formolo (Cannondale), Stef Clement (IAM) and Sebastian Henao (Sky) were among the many riders to hit the deck in the many crashes that split the field.

 

After Geniez had saved himself from hitting the deck, he was brought back and instead Kangert got an unintentional advantage. He decided to keep going but Izagirre brought him back as a very small lead group had formed. Uran made a brief attack before Kangert took over the pace-setting. A little later the second group with Gilbert made it back and the Belgian would turn out to be the strongest on the day.

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