Wholesale changes occurred in stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia as the mountains arrived on the scene for the first time. Cesare Benedetti of BORA-Hansgrohe took the team’s third stage win of the race as the overall lead changed hands to Jan Polanc of UAE Team Emirates who took over from teammate Valerio Conti.
Stage 12 from Cuneo to Pinerolo finally saw the long-awaited mountains arrive for the first time. It was not a day that was expected to be definitive, with just the one major climb of Montoso and the very short sharp bite of the Via Principi di Acaja towards the end of the stage to make matters interesting. Attacks were on from virtually the drop of the flag, with a number of moves coming and going before a 25-strong attack went up the road.
Jasha Sutterlin of Movistar, Eddie Dunbar and Christian Knees of Team Ineos, Matteo Montaguti and Francesco Gavazzi of Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, Manuele Boaro and Dario Cataldo of Astana, Damiano Caruso of Bahrain Merida, Luca Covili and Manuel Senni of Bardiani-CSF, Cesare Benedetti of BORA-Hansgrohe, Josef Černy of CCC Team, Sean Bennett of EF Education First, Eros Capecchiof Deceuinck-Quick Step,Tobias Ludvigsson of Groupama-FDJ, Thomas De Gendt and Roger Kluge of Lotto Soudal, Connor Dunne of Israel Cycling Academy, Danilo Wyss and Enrico Gasparotto of Dimension Data, Marco Haller and Jenthe Bermans of Katusha-Alpecin, Gianluca Brambilla of Trek-Segafredo, Jan Bakelants of Team Sunweb and Jan Polanc of UAE Team Emirates were the riders in the move.
Having formed the break of the day, they were graced a healthy advantage early on as UAE Team Emirates set about policing matters in the peloton; but allowing the break’s advantage to go out to 6 minutes with 120km to go and continue to grow from there. Jan Polanc stood a good chance of taking the overall lead if the gap was large enough to the bunch, which would not be a problem for UAE Team Emirates; keeping the maglia rosa in the team. Maybe for that reason the peloton had no issue with the break’s lead cresting 12 minutes with 97km to go.
With so many teams represented in the breakaway move it was going to be hard to bring them back at any rate, but with no serious threats to the general classification present, the main field were happy to just let the break’s lead climb and climb up and over the 15 minute margin in what was pretty clear was going to be the move that decided the stage honours . . . and potentially more as the day unfolded.
With 41.5km to go the race would reach the category 1 climb of Montoso. 9km in length and averaging 9.3% it would be a first great test for everyone, but in the breakaway Sean Bennett and Marco Haller didn’t want to wait for the climb before they made their move, attacking with just under 60km to go and gaining a quick 18 second lead over the rest of the break. Back in the bunch Bahrain-Merida and Mitchelton-SCOTT – the latter having missed out on the move altogether – led the pace before Jumbo-Visma came through and took over from the team of Jack Bauer and Simon Yates.
At the foot of the climb Haller and Bennett had a 30 second lead over the chase group, with the peloton a full 12.40mins back. The climb predictably spelled the end of the day at the head of the race for many of the breakaway with a group of six forming at the head of the race led by Gianluca Brambilla. The group made light work of the gap to the leaders and continued to press on while back down the road it was the Astana squad who made the first move from the peloton.
With the break nearing the top of the climb Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana leapt out of the bunch to join teammate Jan Hirt. His move drew Rafal Majka and Vincenzo Nibali before Primož Roglič also made a move across, drawing Yates and co as the attack was nullified. Next to go was Mikel Landa of Movistar and this time he found daylight before Lopez again made an attack to get across and join him.
Meanwhile at the front of the race the now-five leaders continued to work together, with Cesare Benedetti working hard to try and get across. At the top of the climb Polanc was dropped in the sprint for the KOM points as Brambilla staked his claim for the blue KOM jersey. The Italian attacked and led out the sprint to take maximum points and guarantee him a place on the podium to collect the KOM jersey at least. At the top of the climb the break’s lead had dropped to 11.20mins.
On the descent of the climb the persistent Benedetti rejoined the leaders along with Polanc as the group arrived at 21km to go with a 2.13min lead over the remnants of the break and a lead of 10.45min advantage over a select group of GC contenders. Landa and Lopez were up the road though ahead of them, trying to beg back what time they could. Their advantage was that both riders had teammates drop back from the breakaway to support their effort and drag them along as the roads flattened out.
With 10km to go there were groups all over the road with the Roglic-Nibali-Yates group around 10.20mins back from the leaders. As the kilometres ticked by attention began to turn to how the stage would be won and whether the leaders, who were now seven-strong, would be willing to wait for the sprint or not. Their lead was still 9 minutes over the Landa-Lopez group, and as they went through the first of the technical turns Benedetti made his move on the slopes of the short, sharp climb. The Italian drilled the front of the group, splintering the move before Gianluca Brambilla took over on the front with a massive turn of pace that saw just Eros Capecchi able to go with him.
Nearing the summit of the climb it looked like game over for the rest of the group with Brambilla piling on the pace. Eddie Dunbar was just a few seconds off the duo’s wheels but he managed to get back on board with 1.5km to go and it looked like it would be a three-way fight for the stage. Capecchi took over the lead as the trio neared 1km to go with Dunbar resolute in staying on the back of the group. It looked like the three would fight it out for the stage honours, but then Benedetti and Caruso came across, taking full advantage of the games played by the leaders.
Brambilla led out the sprint as Capecchi appeared to sit up, but it was Benedetti who had the power to surge through and take the win ahead of Caruso and Dunbar. Brambilla finished fourth with a disappointed Capecchi fifth; as Jan Polanc time trialled to sixth behind him and the new maglia rosa of the Giro d’Italia.
Back down the road Landa and Lopez did cross the line ahead of the rest of the GC contenders, taking 28 seconds back from Roglič, Yates and co.
Jack Bauer arrived solo after doing his work for teammate Yates earlier in the stage.