There was a significant lack of controversy on stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia – no helmets being removed, no mates offering each other wheels, just hard, wet racing.
Alberto Contador extended his lead at the top with some handy bonus seconds and a struggling Fabio Aru giving up a few more down the road. It wasn’t just the leadership race we were talking about, though.
1. Gilbert’s trademark victory
We should have seen it coming, really. The finale of stage 12 had Philippe Gilbert written all over it, but not much of the pre-race chat was about him as a potential winner.
It was almost like it was the Amstel Gold Race, except for the lack of hills along the entire route, but the uphill finish suited Gilbert’s style down to the ground.
Everyone was talking about Michael Matthews as the one to beat (see below) but it was Gilbert who took the final climb on, passing Astana’s Tanel Kangert in the closing metres and finishing three seconds ahead of Alberto Contador and the rest.
Gilbert’s Spring campaign was a little disappointing by his standards, he led up the Cauberg on the Amstel, but the new finish line meant he didn’t win. Then a crash in Fleche Wallonne pretty much ended his chances of competing hard at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
He’s back to his attacking best in the Giro, though, as he’s shown throughout the first 11 stages. Now, on stage 12, he’s repeated his feat of 2009 by winning a stage at the Italian Tour.
2. The deceptively difficult route
Look at the route profile and you’d think it was an exceptionally straight forward stage. Absolutely pan flat for the first two thirds, a couple of hills and a small ramp up to the finish.
But in reality the last third of the stage was pretty brutal. The short climb to Castelnuovo caught a few by surprise and after that there wasn’t much time to recover for the climb of Crosara.
That climb was an absolute beast – reaching over 13 per cent at one point – as we saw the peloton, led by Team Sky‘s Vasil Kiryienka, crawl towards up the ridiculous gradients.
If the ascent was bad, the descent was even worse. Not quite so steep, but when the smooth tarmac was covered in a nice sheet of water it became down-right dangerous.
FDJ’s Alexandre Geniez showed just how hard it was as he led the reduced bunch down the hill, slipping and sliding about the road and almost wiping out an entire family of spectators.
Then, to top it off, the category four climb to the finish line tested whatever the riders had left in their legs. Astana’s Kangert looked to be pedalling through sand as he was swallowed up by Gilbert.
It doesn’t get any easier, this Giro.
3. Aru losing time on Contador
Fabio Aru didn’t look great on stage 11, but he soldiered to the finish in touch with Contador. On stage 12, however, the Italian just couldn’t keep the pace up the final climb and lost 14 seconds on the Spaniard.
Maybe Aru doesn’t like the rain? His attacking instincts certainly look dampened anyway.
As a youngster Aru was reportedly quite a bad descender. So much so that the Italian U23 coach once drove his car right up behind the rider and repeatedly revved his engine to encourage him to go faster.
Several Astana riders were all over the road descending Crosora, but Aru didn’t look to be among them. Instead it was on the final climb where the 24-year-old surprisingly struggled.
Maybe his pre-race illness doesn’t take kindly to the inclement conditions – the weather’s not going to get much better in the next few stages though.
4. Michael Matthews was working for Simon Gerrans
Michael Matthews extinguished the Eurosport interviewer’s bonfire before the stage when told he was favourite for the stage. “I’m working for Simon Gerrans today,” Matthews replied, leaving a number of bookmakers very happy indeed.
On paper the stage looked ideal for Mr Bling, as we respectfully call him. The uphill finish would blast out any of the pure sprinters for sure. In reality the previous two hills and relentless pace of the peloton blew out all the fast guys before they even got to the end.
The man he was trying to protect came a cropper on the treacherous descent, leaving Matthews to take over the leadership role.
There was no Cauberg moment here though – where Matthews clung on to Gilbert’s wheel in the Amstel Gold Race as the Aussie was nowhere to be seen.
To be fair to him, he’d spent the first 170km emptying the tank for his more senior colleague in Gerrans, so its no wonder he didn’t have much left.
There aren’t many more sprint stages left in the Giro, but maybe Matthews will get the nod if it does come down to the fast men.
5. King of the Mountains competition hotting up
Any excuse to talk about Beñat Intxausti, really. The Spaniard is really making this King of the Mountains competition his own – extending his lead in the blue jersey competition with a series of well-timed attacks.
Giant-Alpecin‘s Simon Geschke emptied himself up the final climb to claw back a few points and sit in second place and serial breakaway artist Carlos Betancur picked up a couple of points to help his tally.
The General Classifiction battle has been at the forefront of everyone’s attention for the past few days, allowing the mountains jersey to slip under the radar slightly.
Intxausti’s attacking today made sure that no-one forgets about him, and who could forget about Beñat?