Ivan Santaromita (BMC) was locked in a battle for the win and for possession of the maglia rosa on stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia, but ultimately wound up empty-handed on both fronts in Sestri Levante.
The Italian was part of a nine-man group that broke clear after 50km, and when the group's advantage stretched beyond four minutes, he moved within striking distance of the overall lead. While Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat) was the pink jersey on the road at that point, Santaromita knew that stage victory would also see him land the time bonus necessary to overtake the Frenchman in the general standings.
When Santaromita attempted to jump clear on the final climb of the Villa Tassani, however, he found that his every pedal stroke was being carefully watched by Casar, who appeared to be the strong man of the break. In the end, it was Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol) who soloed to stage victory and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) retained the pink jersey, while Santaromita rolled across the line in fifth.
After changing and mulling over the finale aboard his team bus, Santaromita said that he felt being in the hunt for the maglia rosa had dented his own chances of stealing clear to stage victory.
"Casar rode against me. I tried to attack on the climb and I tried to go again with 3km to go, but he didn't give me any space," Santaromita told Cyclingnews. "In the end, I didn't win the stage, and he didn't get the jersey."
At that precise moment, Casar was telling reporters that he had ridden only with stage victory in mind and the Frenchman appeared crestfallen after he took the sprint for second behind Bak, but Santambrogio was adamant that he had designs on the overall lead.
"He was riding against me specifically for the jersey, but I wanted to win the stage," Santaromita said. "It's my first Giro d'Italia, and it would have been beautiful to crown it with a win. That's what I was thinking of more than the pink jersey."
Although the winning break broke up on the final climb, the caginess of the manoeuvres at the front meant that it all came back together again on the descent. On the run-in to Sestri Levante, the break fragmented and reformed repeatedly as the non-sprinters tried to eke out an opening.
"I wanted to try and make the difference on the climb to break up the group, but it all came back together and it was attack and counter-attack all the way after that," Santaromita said. "I was like Bak by that stage, looking for the right moment to get away alone, but Casar kept shutting me down so it was hard."
Ironically, Santaromita was caught flat-footed when Bak seized his opportunity 1500 metres from home, because he had just taken a turn on the front to shut down an attack from Casar. The game of cat and mouse for the maglia rosa, such as it was, ultimately had no winner.
"I closed the gap on Bak and Casar after they'd tried to get away, and right at that moment Bak went again on the counter-attack," Santaromita said. "I would have liked to have tried to go after him, but I think that Casar would have tried to close us down again."
Santaromita now moves up to fifth place overall, 49 seconds down on Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), but he admitted that another raid off the front in search of stage victory was more likely than any concerted bid for a high overall finish in Milan.
"We'll take it day by day. I might try and hang tough and see where I'm standing overall, but if I find I'm out of the GC again quickly, I'll sit up and maybe try and get into a break on another stage."