Spain’s Alberto Contador reinforced his bid for overall victory at the Giro d’Italia by snatching precious bonus seconds at the end of the 12th stage won in timely fashion by Belgian Philippe Gilbert.
A day of rain and crashes on winding descents was in store for a peloton that has already suffered during 11 days of dramatic racing but Gilbert kept his composure in a tricky, rain-lashed finale to claim his second stage win for BMC after his maiden win in 2009.
Italian Franco Pellizotti (Androni) and Tanel Kangert (Astana) had escaped from the main bunch prior to the 1km climb to Monte Berico which hosted the finish line of the 190 km ride from Imola to Vicenza.
But the demands of the climb soon took their toll, and as the chasing bunch closed in Gilbert moved to the front of the peloton in the final few hundred metres before launching an unstoppable solo attack.
The Belgian one-day classics specialist came over the finish line with his arms spread in victory, with Contador pushing hard to claim second place and precious bonus seconds to increase his overall lead on his rivals.
“This kind of finish is my speciality, so I was looking forward to giving it a go here,” Gilbert told Rai television.
“I came to visit this stage before Milan-San Remo earlier this year, and I think seeing it for real made the difference for me.”
Contador, bidding to become the first man since Marco Pantani in 1998 to complete the Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double, finished second at 3secs behind Gilbert to increase his lead on Italian challenger Fabio Aru (Astana).
Aru, Simon Gerrans and several other ‘punchers’ were expected to excel on the hilly finish to what was mainly a flat stage, but the Italian was nowhere to be seen in the finale.
He finished out the top 10, handing 14secs to Contador and although he remains second overall Aru is now 17secs off the lead.
“I suffered the bonk,” said Aru in reference to the decrease in blood sugar which endurance athletes mostly dread at key moments.
Contador, meanwhile, was lucid enough to realise his Italian rival was out of his comfort zone.
“I was watching him and realised he wasn’t climbing as well as he should be,” said Contador.
“So I just tried to stay ahead of him as much as possible.”
Another two Astana riders, Mikel Landa, Meana, and Dario Cataldo are 55secs and 1min 30secs behind the Spaniard, whose Czech teammate Roman Kreuziger sits fifth overall at 1:55.
Richie Porte, whose pink jersey bid was compounded by a two-minute penalty on Tuesday after fellow Australian Simon Clarke broke the regulations by handing him his wheel during a mechanical problem, lost more seconds on the stage.
The Team Sky leader was among a group of riders who crossed the line 6sec behind Gilbert.
Overall, it was a forgettable day for Australian riders in the race.
Gerrans (Orica) should have bene looking forward to tussling with the likes of Gilbert, Contador and Aru on an uphill finish that was perfectly suited to the former Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner.
In the final 50km of the stage, however, Gerrans suffered yet another crash, only resuming the race after several minutes of waiting by the roadside with a teammate.
Results from the 12th stage of the Giro d’Italia, held over 190 km between Imola and Vicenza on Thursday:
1. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/BMC) 4hr 22min 50sec, 2. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) at 3secs, 3. Diego Ulissi (ITA/LAM) same time, 4. Simon Geschke (GER/GIA) s.t., 5. Enrico Battaglin (ITA/BAR) s.t., 6. Paolo Tiralongo (ITA/AST) s.t., 7. Ion Izagirre (ESP/MOV) 6, 8. Carlos Betancur (COL/ALM) s.t., 9. Juergen Van den Broeck (BEL/LOT) s.t., 10. Mikel Landa ((ESP/AST) s.t.
Selected: 11. Rigoberto Uran (COL/ETI) s.t., 12. Richie Porte (AUS/SKY) s.t.
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 51hr 17min 06sec, 2. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) at 17secs, 3. Mikel Landa (ESP/AST) 55, 4. Dario Cataldo (ITA/AST) 1min 30sec, 5. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/TIN) 1:55, 6. Rigoberto Uran (COL/ETI) 2:19, 7. Giovanni Visconti (ITA/MOV) 2:21, 8. Damiano Caruso (ITA/BMC) 2:29, 9. Andrey Amadour (CRC/MOV) 2:38, 10. Leopold Konig (CZE/SKY) 2:44
– Agence France-Presse