The breakaway let go after tough previous stage
After the brutal gravel stage on day 11 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia, the prospect of a 212km climbing stage would not be welcome for many of the riders.
Luckily for spectators, there were still plenty of racers up for the fight early in the stage, with a decent battle to form a breakaway unfolding on the road to Bagno di Romagna.
There were a few shake ups in the breakaway group, but eventually 14 riders established the day’s break.
When that group, including George Bennett, Gianluca Brambilla, and Andrea Vendrame (Ag2r-Citroën), finally went clear the peloton was happy to let them fight for the stage, as the general classification contenders were happy to keep the pace low in an attempt to recover from the effort of previous day.
Into the final, the stage came down to a fascinating four-rider dual between Bennett, Brambilla, Chris Hamilton (Team DSM), and Andrea Vendrame.
But after Bennett and Brambillia let their tempers get the best of them, Vendrame only had to outsprint Hamilton to the biggest win of his career.
The 26-year-old Italian added the victory to wins in Tro-Bro Leon in 2019 and a stage of Pays de la Loire, but he will be ecstatic to take the stage after finishing second on stage 19 of the 2019 Giro, only being beaten by Esteban Chaves.
Ineos Grenadiers keep a firm grasp on the race
While Sir Dave Brailsford has said Ineos Grenadiers are racing under a new attacking philosophy, stage 12 of the race was a familiar sight for cycling fans - Ineos Grenadiers leading the peloton with a pace just high enough to deter any attacks.
Following their dominant display on the gravel, with the team splitting the race on the first unpaved sector and Egan Bernal eventually extending his advantage with his own attacks, the British WorldTour squad make their iron grip on the race very clear on stage 12.
With Filippo Ganna leading the charge, Ineos were happy to control the pace from start to finish with no rivals really keen to risk another hard day of racing.
But it wasn’t entirely plain sailing for the pre-race favourites, as Gianni Moscon suffered an entirely avoidable crash inside the final few kilometres.
The Italian made the mistake of trying to chase down Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) on a descent, but quickly fell victim to ‘The Shark’s’ superior downhill skills.
Moscon lost his front wheel on a sweeping left-hand turn and went down, avoiding any injury but suffering damage to his pride.
He was able to jump back on the bike and finish the stage, but it’s the kind of mistake Egan Bernal could do without from one of his late-mountain domestiques.
Attritional Giro takes its toll as plenty of riders drop out
The toll of the Giro d’Italia very quickly became apparent on stage 12, as a string of notable riders began to retire from the race early in the day.
Early in the day, British time trial specialist Alex Dowsett pulled out of the race, with his Israel Start-Up Nation team saying he had been suffering from stomach problems.
The bad news continued for ISN as the stage continued, as Alessandro De Marchi, wearer of the maglia rosa earlier in the race, was involved in a serious crash and was seen lying prone at the side of the road, receiving medical treatment.
De Marchi was taken away by ambulance and news later emerged that he had suffered multiple injuries in the fall, including a broken right collarbone, six broken ribs, and two broken vertebrae.
But fortunately the Italian did not suffer a head injury and was conscious, but was due to be kept in hospital overnight.
The retirements continued, as Marc Soler (Movistar) was seen dangling off the back of the bunch early in the stage, talking to race doctors apparently about a problem with his back after a crash at the start of the day.
Soler eventually quit the race, along with stage winner Gino Mäder (Bahrain-Victorious), who had been suffering after a crash the previous day.
Finally, Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) also left the Giro, bringing the tally of stage 12 abandons up five.
Minor GC action as Trek-Segafredo go on the attack
While the strong pace set by Ineos for much of the day deterred many of the GC from risking an attack, the new power duo of Vincenzo Nibali and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) defied the odds to try their own sneak attack.
The pair attacked 10km from the finish, with Ciccone going first and Nibali following shortly after.
They weren’t able to establish much of a gap, but they still kept Ineos on their toes with Gianni Moscon forced to sprint across to finally shut down the gap.
But the Trek riders weren’t yet done for the day, as Nibali launched a signature attack on the downhill section before the line and easily gapped the peloton, with Moscon falling as he tried to follow.
While Nibali could have sat up and rode in with the peloton, he instead opted to push hard on the flats and hold off the chasing bunch gaining back seven seconds on the rest.
Nibali is still nowhere near the maglia rosa, now sitting 13th overall at 4-04 down, but this could be a sign of which team are most willing to take the fight to Ineos over the next nine stages.
No friendship formed between Brambilla and Bennett
Compared to the gravel of stage 11, day 12 of the Giro was a relatively quiet affair, but fortunately fans had a slightly different type of drama to follow on the climbs to Bagno di Romagna.
As the breakaway group was whittled down to the few strongest riders, it became clear that there were some bad feeling between two of the escapees - George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) and Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo).
After a few subtle exchanges between the pair earlier in the day, tempers boiled over into the decisive moments.
In the final few kilometres, Chris Hamilton and Andrea Vendrama had made it clear and were powering their way to the finish, as Brambilla got out of the saddle to chase, but he immediately switched off the power, expecting Bennett to chase.
But as Bennett explained after the chase, he’s not know for his sprint so wasn’t keen on chasing down a move to benefit Brambilla.
Then at the finish, things got worse as Brambilla frantically sprinted to third place at the line, but swerved across the road and cut up Bennett.
After the finish, the race jury decided Brambilla had strayed from his sprinting line and relegated him to last place in his group, which put Bennett third and Brambilla fourth on the stage.
While the reason for the animosity between the pair remains unknown, it was a fascinating sub-plot to the day’s breakaway action.
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