On the previous day’s trip from Forlì to Imola, the breakaway once again decided the outcome from amongst their ranks, the successful move this time coming from Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin; another addition to his year’s impressive palmares so far. Carlos Betancur (2nd), Maciej Paterski (8th) and Philippe Gilbert (9th) were the highest placed of yesterday’s Spokenforks picks at the finish line in Imola; the Colombian once again in hot pursuit of a stage win at this year’s Giro d’Italia. Stage 12 offers a differing affair somewhat, opening with vastly flat terrain, before condensing some short sharp hills in to the last 55km; the conclusion coming upon a categorised climb to the line
Beginning in yesterday’s finishing town of Imola, the bunch will savour the first 126km of this 190km long stage to Vincenza, the road possessing not a single bump in the profile from the neutralised zone onwards. A small kick at Torriglia after 126km signals the start of a closing 64km which encompass three categorised climbs; including the uphill finale. The ascent to Castelnuovo is a steady average gradient of 5% during its 5.4km entirety, but the maximum of 11% is bound to make some legs creak under the strain. They will then drop through several small towns and villages including Teolo and Bastia, then ride across a pan flat section of 10km or so, before then shooting up another climb. This time a Category 3 is put before them as they ride up to Crosara, a brutal climb despite its relatively small distance of 3.7km. Though the average is 9.1%, realistically they will spend more time fighting against slopes in double figures, ultimately maxing out at 17%; the peak gradient coming quite early in the ascent. What then follows is a dash down the other side and up Perarolo’s unrecognised climb on the profile, approximately 2km long and wielding a hefty punch in a summit that touches 10% – 11%.
With ten kilometres remaining the peloton gradually descend from Perarolo and enter onto a 5km run to the line which will allow teams to jostle for position on its flat parcours. The key men will need to be in a good position as the ride tilts up again at 1.2km, from where it shall not let up until the finish line has been reached. Averaging about 7% for the most part, as the contenders approach the line, the gradient will tick upwards to 10% before reaching 11% in the final few meters to the finish. A strong rider will need to pace this well to ensure they do not burn out too soon, it seems a day tailor made for the puncheurs present at 2015’s Giro d’Italia.
The result of Stage 7 should act as a solid indicator of who is likely to be present in the mix for the win at Vincenza on Stage 12. On that day in the first week, Diego Ulissi secured a surprising win on the uphill finish, beating other such specialists to the line convincingly. He will of course now have his eyes upon doubling up here in Vincenza on similar terrain. Considering he has raced a limited scheduled heading into the Giro due to suspension, his performance was unexpected somewhat, making him a favourite for Stage 12 on a more preferable tougher slog to the line.
Juan José Lobato was the rider edged out into second place on Stage 7 and he shall aim to reverse that result here. It is likely that Movistar and Lobato circled this stage long ago has a possible win for the Spanish outfit and it is easy to see why given the finish. Lobato has demonstrated well as of late an ability to dominate these types of finishes, but the gradients here could be a little too strong for him. However, his team is well equipped with riders who can protect him and ensure he is not left isolated during the day’s gruelling climbs as well as the finish itself.
With a tougher uphill than of that in Fiuggi, Philippe Gilbert shall fancy his chances of finally picking up a stage win at this year’s Giro upon gradients likely to send his rivals slipping backwards. BMC will do their best to put their man in the best of contention for this stage which is perhaps their best chance of glory during the three weeks. Though evidently riding well off the back of a solid spring campaign, the win at this tour has remained elusive so far, but he shall see the steep run to the line as the kind of Ardennes styled terrain which has provided him with many wins over the years. Of everyone earmarked to fly their colours in the rush to the line, Gilbert perhaps possesses the greatest amount of history in these attritional sprints.
Orica-GreenEDGE will be confident of being represented as ever in this three week grand tour and are bound to look upon Simon Gerrans as the man to do the job here. He is no stranger to putting in strong performances alongside the likes of Gilbert in the Ardennes classics and will be a danger here on a steep ramp which could bring him to the fore. Of course, the Australian team are likely to have a headache when choosing their number one man for the day, as Michael Matthews is equally well regarded to dominate on these sorts of finishes. The young rider is developing a habit of winning stages which finish uphill and has certainly appeared extremely strong at this year’s Giro, maintaing a presence in select groups which are usually exclusive to the mountain men. If he stays the course and is backed fully by his team, Matthews will certainly be as threatening as ever, but would probably benefit from the sprint being taken up quite late.
Fabio Felline was unfortunate on Stage 11 and will look upon Stage 12 as a great chance to rectify this with a stage win. The Trek Factory Racing rider has proven already that he has the legs to stick it with the best on these lumpy days and a uphill finish is the sort of thing he tends to favour. With some testing climbs late on in the day, he could find himself one of the fresher feeling quick men and sprint away from those who are usually faster than him on lesser gradients. As ever, Felline will have to go about protecting himself solo and will need to stay alert when finding the right wheel to follow in the finale.
Of those who look to be considered specialists on this type of finish, Damiano Cunego warrants inclusion as a contender for Stage 12. The Italian has coped well thus far and is evidently in the midst of some of his best form in recent years; he will not wish to spurn this fact and will turn to this stage as a way of making the most of it. Cunego has history in the Ardennes, if he can recapture that form here, then there is a good case to be made for 33 year old.
Finally, a man who has perhaps been seeking a victory more than anyone else so far, AG2R La Mondiale’s Carlos Bentancur. The Colombian rider has been tasked with claiming some glory for the French outfit who sadly lost their leader Domenico Pozzovivo so early on in this race. His increase in form has almost been tangible from one day to the next at the Giro and it seems you cannot exclude him from causing an upset soon. Yesterday he was once again in the break, eventually securing second place, but is likely to feel aggrieved by the result as he appeared to be the fastest contender in a sprint had his group not allowed Zakarin to escape. With a quick finish and an obvious affinity towards climbing, Bentancur could finally hammer home his efforts in style.
The intensity of the 190km ride to Vincenza is likely to have a big impact upon the final composition of those fighting for the stage win. A more conservative day should allow the likes of Michael Matthews, Fabio Felline, Juan José Lobato and Diego Ulissi to decide the winner amongst themselves. But, as we have already seen so many times at this year’s Giro d’Italia, the teams focused upon general classification could make the last 60km much harder work than expected. In this scenario Philippe Gilbert, Simon Gerrans and Carlos Betancur begin to gain an advantage, as the accumulative damage of the three categorised climbs drain the legs of the purer sprinters throughout the day. Whoever does win will have done so through a great deal of hard work, strength, speed and sharp intelligence to predict who to follow and when to attack.
1st Philippe Gilbert 2nd Juan José Lobato 3rd Simon Gerrans
Outsider: Carlos Betancur