Jan the man in pink
As a huge breakaway went clear on stage 12, it look a near-impossible task for Valerio Conti to hold onto the maglia rosa by the finish, particularly as his UAE Team Emirates have just six riders left in the race.
The gap grew early in the stage as the Emirati team looked comfortable in letting the escapees ride clear, the presence of their rider Jan Polanc in the break perhaps giving them confidence.
Slovenian Polanc was the best overall-placed rider to make the breakaway, starting the day in 24th at 5-23 back on team-mate Conti.
That was motivation enough for Polanc to fight and try to hold onto the front of the race over the climb to Montoso, as it was clear the break would stay away and make it to the line.
He finally finished just 25 seconds down on the stage winner with enough time over the peloton to take over the race lead, in an ideal situation for UAE Team Emirates as they hand the jersey back to themselves.
Polanc now holds a 4-07 advantage over his compatriot Primož Roglič, but holding onto the jersey is going to be a huge task for the 27-year-old as we head to the first summit finish of this Giro d’Italia on stage 13.
Either way, the GC battle is well and truly under way.
GC back-markers itching for the fight
Fireworks in the general classification fight have been long overdue in this Giro d’Italia, with the opening week offering nothing in the way of talking points for the overall.
After a mixture of sprint days, largely untesting climbs and the two time trials in the opening 11 stages, those trailing on time will have been itching to start the fight.
The first major climb of the 2019 Giro d’Italia did not disappoint on that front, with Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana) the first to show their impatience, attacking on the ascent and working together in an attempt to pull their deficit back within comfortable range.
Despite valiant efforts, Landa and López only managed to pull back 28 seconds, bumping them up to 21st and 16th on the general classification respectively.
But as two dangerous overall contenders placed a long way back – both around four minutes behind Roglič – they could be given room to pull back even more time in the coming stages as the other favourites are busy marking each other.
Eddie Dunbar breaks through
Irishman Eddie Dunbar looked like the star candidate for ‘ride of the day,’ as the 22-year-old made it into the breakaway and looked strongest on the big climb of the stage, even putting in a brief but dangerous attack that was quietly reeled back in.
The Team Ineos rider, making his Grand Tour debut after stepping in for the injured Egan Bernal, was still in with a chance at victory on the flats but looked like he may have missed the decisive moment on the sharp final climb of the day, before artfully bridging to the front once again.
Victory slipped away on the final straight as a surprise return by Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansrohe) caught everyone off guard and the Italian took the win, and arguably usurping Dunbar’s ‘ride of the day’ crown.
Regardless, Dunbar sprinted to third place which is a huge achievement for such a young rider, and marks the first Grand Tour podium for Team Ineos since the name change.
First cracks in Jumbo-Visma, but Primož Roglič lands on his feet
The explosions in peloton on the savage ascent to Montoso did little to separate the overall favourites, as an elite group including Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) were glued together all the way and finally crossed the line in a stalemate.
Despite there being no major shake-up, there were some revealing details in the group of talent that finished together.
The most notable moment emerged as the favourites hit the bottom of the descent and ploughed their way along the flat.
Both Yates and Nibali had team-mates left in the final for support, Yates benefiting from the revenant Esteban Chaves who looked outstanding in the final.
Roglič on the other hand found himself isolated in the unit, with the youth and inexperience of his domestiques perhaps making itself evident.
After the Slovenian lost Laurens De Plus in the opening week due to illness, Roglič is relying on Sep Kuss, Koen Bouwman and Antwan Tolkoek for support when the road rises, and the first cracks in the Jumbo-Visma armour may have revealed themselves.
However double stage winner Roglič stood on his own two feet, refusing to hit the front of the group and finishing comfortably without losing any advantage to his nearest rivals.
Plenty of riders in the professional peloton never taste glory in their careers, but Cesare Benedetti promoted himself out of the class in the most dramatic fashion.
The Italian looked to be well out of contention for stage victory on the climb to Montoso, where he was dropped and clung desperately just off the back of the front group.
When he was able to re-join the leaders it seemed only a matter of time before he was dispatched once again after the monumental effort during the chase.
He once again slipped back on the final cobbled leg-snapper 2.5km, as the odds fell in favour of compatriots Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo) or Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Merida).
But the 31-year-old came from behind to power past his day-long companions-turned-rivals after a whirlwind day, taking his first pro victory in the most glorious manner in his home Grand Tour.
What a ride.
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