Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) won stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia 2018, taking it upon himself to launch an early sprint which swept up two last minute breakaways on the pit lane finish of Imola motor racing circuit.
The 213 kilometre stage from Osimo to Imola was almost entirely flat, with only a minor blip at the mid distance and a climb which reached its peak with under 10km to go.
The race first arrived at the Imola motor racing circuit with 18km left, before exiting again to tackle the short Tre Monti climb - and returning to the race circuit on the Rivazza bend with just 1km to the finish line.
Whilst Carlos Betancur (Movistar) and Matej Mohoric (Bahrain–Merida) took their chances at getting to the line before the fast legs of the sprinters, ultimately they were unsuccessful, Bennett himself closing the gap to charge past them, with Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) in second and Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida) third.
How it happened
Stage 12 had been considered a sprinter's race since the announcement of the Giro d'Italia 2018 route - so it would prove a valuable opportunity for the fast men to gain points in the maglia ciclamino competition - led by Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), with 178 points going into the stage. He was ahead of Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) who had 112.
After several tough stages featuring summit finishes and gruelling racing, the bunch was happy to keep the pace sedate until required - allowing an early break to form with very little fight.
The five-man escapee group featured representatives from the Italian wild card Pro Continental teams: Marco Frapporti (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Mirco Maestri and Manuel Senni (both Bardiani–CSF) plus Jacopo Mosca and Eugert Zhupa (both Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia). With around 180km to go, the riders had accumulated over four minutes on the laid-back bunch.
With the gap approaching five minutes, sprinters's teams began to take to the helm; Quick-Step Floors (racing for Viviani) and Bora-Hansgrohe (for Bennett) showing a determined presence at the front. With 150km to go, the all-Italian break had lost some of its margin, which now sat at 3-19.
Frapporti, who went into the stage eighth in the sprinters's competition with 49 points, took the first intermediate sprint, the peloton passing after 3-05 and Viviani scooping up what was left.
Whilst black clouds gathered above the peloton, the gap was still sinking, down to 2-23 with 90km to go - though this increased again when the contents of those black clouds came pouring down - to three minutes at 60km to go.
At the second intermediate sprint, Frapporti once again picked up the lion's share of the purple jersey points, with Viviani collecting what was left from the bunch.
With less than 35km remaining, the peloton was not prepared to let more tarmac appear between it and the five-man group whose lead slipped under the minute marker.
Amid the downpour, the peloton split, with both Viviani and Richard Carapaz (Movistar) finding themselves on the wrong side of a 30-second gap whilst the front group hoovered up the break. The sprinters weren't keen to be dislodged with the two groups eventually merging whilst the break was absorbed.
Stage four winner Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) took advantage of the peloton's complacency on a corner, making a break for freedom and quickly building up 10 seconds, which hovered at 12 seconds when the peloton entered the circuit with 15km to go as Viviani lost contact with the bunch.
Exiting the track, Wellens appeared to struggle his way up the climb whilst EF Education First worked hard, catching the lone break on the slope with 10km to go.
The catch made, Alex Dowsett (Katusha) put in a dig, to be joined by Sergio Henao (Team Sky), and then Rohan Dennis (BMC) - only to be closed down, largely by EF Education First, as more riders dropped from the back.
In what might seem like an odd move, Bennett came to the front with under 9km left - the road still going up. This forced other teams forwards, before Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) made his move, to be joined by Carlos Betancur (Movistar); the two cresting the climb and working hard on the descent to gather up four seconds distance with 5km to go.
Betancur pushed on, whilst Ulissi dropped the wheel and Matej Mohoric (Bahrain–Merida) attempted to bridge - the gap sticking at five seconds with 2.5km to go on sodden roads.
Entering the motor circuit via the Rivazza bend, with 1km to go, the two breakaway riders had just four seconds. Not content to wait for the bunch to swallow the gap, Bennett opted to enter an early charge.
Not one rider remaining was able to hold his wheel, allowing the Irishman to take the win with time to look back before stamping on the pedals for one final effort to the line. Behind him, the charge for the second step of the podium went to Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) with Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida) third.
Friday's stage 13 will see the sprinters get another shot at victory, with 180km from Ferrara to Nervesa della Battaglia.
Giro d'Italia 2018, stage 12: Osimo to Imola (213km)
1 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe 4-49-34
2 Danny van Poppel (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
3 Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
4 Baptiste Planckaert (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin
5 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) BMC Racing Team
6 Michael Mørkøv (Den) Quick-Step Floors
7 Manuel Belletti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec
8 Clement Venturini (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Florian Senechal (Fra) Quick-Step Floors
10 Enrico Battaglin (Ita) LottoNL-Jumbo, all at same time
General classification after stage 12
1 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, in 51-57-55
2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 47s
3 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-04
4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-18
5 Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar Team, at 1-56
6 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 2-09
7 Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team, at 2-36
8 Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana Pro Team, at 2-54
9 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2-55
10 Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 3-10
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