Alexandre Geniez of AG2R La Mondiale has won stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana on a day where the red leader’s jersey changed hands.  Geniez won the stage ahead of Dylan van Baarle and Mark Padun; as Jesus Herrada of Movistar took over the race lead from Simon Yates.  Herrada’s move into the red jersey has dropped George Bennett one place to 11th.

Although stage 12 of the Vuelta was a rather more tame 181.1km in length and not too threatening in terms of categorised climbs, there was a very large breakaway group willing to throw caution to the wind after 10km of racing.  The group was a strong one, with Dylan Teuns of BMC Racing, Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida, Victor Campenaerts and Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Tiago Machado of Katusha-Alpecin, Geniez, Padun and Van Baarle, Gianluca Brambilla of Trel-Segafredo and Jesus Herrada of Cofidis all included.

Whether it was that the breakaway group were simply too strong to be effectively controlled, or that the peloton were happy to have an ‘off-day’ we may not know, but the breakaway were able to enjoy a huge amount of freedom over the course of the stage.  With 41km to go Mitchelton-Scott lifted the tempo in the bunch but the gap was up to 10.35mins and with Jesus Herrada beginning the day 22nd overall at 5.45mins there was a serious possibility of a change in leadership.

Vincenzo Nibali was involved in the breakaway, photo Sirotti

At 36km to go the gap was up over 11 minutes and at 34km to go Vincenzo Nibali launched an attack.  He was countered by Gianluca Brambilla and Bahrain Merida’s Mark Padun.  That attack split the breakaway group significantly and then saw Davide Formolo of BORA-Hansgrohe launch another move, which was characteristic of the closing kilometres as attack after attack came from the breakaway; who knew that the stage was theirs for the taking.

With 24km to go an attack went clear from Mark Padun, Victor Campenaerts, Dylan van Baarle, Alexandre Geniez, Dylan Teuns, Davide Formolo, Gianluca Brambilla and Dries Devenyns.  This time the rest of the break hesitated and that was just the ticket the small group ahead needed to get a significant gap inside the final 20km that went over 40 seconds.  In the peloton Movistar and Mitchelton-Scott were lifting the tempo but by now they were surely coming to terms with the fact that the red jersey was going away from the GC contenders and it would be a reasonably large margin that Herrada would hold.

10km from the finish the gap between the leaders and the remnants of the break was over 1.25 minutes; stage honours, however, were far from clear cut.  The attacks continued to fly with Campenaerts and Formolo going on the offensive and just stretching the group a bit more.  With 7km to go Dylan van Baarle attacked in the company of Padun and it began to look like they might have the gap needed to go all the way to the line.  Teuns chased them back though in time for another attack from Padun which again gapped a small handful in the group.

Jesus Herrada is the new leader of the Vuelta a Espana, photo Sirotti

In the closing kilometres it was interesting to note that just about every rider in the lead group looked at one point like they could be losing touch with the stage.  All riders displayed signs of weakness in some way shape or form with the attacking nature of the stage meaning that riders really need to pick and choose when to spend their matches.

With 4km to go Padun, Geniez, Teuns, Formolo, Campenaerts and Van Baarle were together and heading towards the finish.  With 3km to go the group finally seemed content to wait to reach the finish line and contest the sprint together, but then Dylan Teuns launched another move as they approached 1km to go.  This time Formolo cracked with Van Baarle.  Campenaerts then launched under the kite as Van Baarle dug deep to get across the gap.  

Five riders would contest the sprint and it was Geniez who hit for home early, with Van Baarle right beside him.  It was a head-to-head battle between the two of them for the win, but Geniez had done enough to take the win; his third Vuelta a Espana triumph.  Padun took third place and from there the clock continued to roll on as Herrada closed in on a potential race lead.  Herrada crossed the line 16th on the stage at 2.32mins; while Movistar led the peloton across the line over 9 minutes later.

The result meant that Herrada now took the red jersey by 3.22mins from Simon Yates, dropping George Bennett down to 11th at 4.09mins.

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