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Italy's Daniele Bennati timed the finish of Giro d'Italia stage 12 to perfection, leading out...
Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) counts his wins
Italy's Daniele Bennati timed the finish of Giro d'Italia stage 12 to perfection, leading out through the final left hand bend at 250 metres remaining. The 27 year-old got and held a gap on Australia's Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) and successfully fended off the comeback charge of Isle of Man's Mark Cavendish (High Road) on the left. Bennati's win, after 172 kilometres of racing from Forlì to Carpi, over Cavendish was determined by a photo finish, while McEwen finished third.
"Cavendish is a sprinter in the last 100 to 50 metres," Bennati noted of his closest rival on the day that was marked with heavy intermittent rain showers. "He made a great sprint, even if I stared before the last curve. According to me, he is very young and demonstrating to be the strongest sprinter in the world."
Cavendish's Team High Road dominated the last 10 kilometres. The American-registered team had four riders working for its sprinter in the final four kilometres, and two that took its young sprinter through the difficult turns up through to the final 1000 metres. André Greipel led Cavendish through the two light left hand curves at 800 metres, after which Milram's Alberto Ongarato temporarily blasted clear, and the High Road rider was left searching for the right wheel to follow.
Coming into the final turn, Bennati had already taken the lead with McEwen right behind, and Cavendish was left chasing for the win. He made a strong comeback and thrust his bike at the line, but was just millimetres shy of the win. "The team worked really well, but Bennati had 10 metres on me out of the corner," stated Cavendish. "A few metres after the line, I had it but that is no use."
The victory for 'Benna' was his third in the 91st Giro d'Italia; he took victories in Milazzo and San Vincenzo before today's stage, the final 42 kilometres and 195 metres of which finished on the Italian Marathon course in dedication to Olympian marathoner Dorando Pietri. Bennati, from Toscana's Arezzo, suffered during the off-season with knee pains and only started race in April.
The day was marked by an escape by Spain's Dionisio Galparsoro (Euskaltel-Euskadi), winner of one stage in each of the 2006 Vuelta Asturias and Hessen Rundfahrt. The 29 year-old from the Basque Country attacked immediately as the race started to reach a maximum advantage of 14 minutes. However, the desire of the sprinters' was strong as they sent their henchmen to the front to close the gap, ending Galparsoro's freedom with 10 kilometres to go.
Italian Champion Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) continues to lead the race over compatriot Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes) and Spain's Alberto Contador (Astana).
Visconti's Quick Step team helped control the finale of the race leading into the last 10 kilometres. "We rode at the front to avoid dangers on the course," said the 25 year-old from Sicilia. He is still recovering from his crash in yesterday's stage to Cesena. "The pain at the end of the race was less than yesterday, I don't know if it will be there tomorrow, but I will start nonetheless."
As the Giro d'Italia continues, Bennati will seek to keep the maglia ciclamino of points leader. He leads the competition by a whopping 49 points over Paolo Bettini (Quick Step). "I have always said that I want to arrive in Milan with this jersey," Bennati added.
Tomorrow, 177 kilometres from Modena to Cittadella is expected to be another sprint finish. Bennati has his eyes on the stage. "Tomorrow will be a very hard day to repeat," he remarked.
Riccardo 'Ricky' Riccò passed his hometown of Formigine 136 kilometres into the race. The Saunier Duval rider, winner of two stages in this Giro and active in many others, did not have a chance to attack on home roads. "I won on the first day of the Giro, so my sensations are good. I will look forward to Saturday," he remarked with his girlfriend at his side.
The race went underway at 13:19, when the 169 remaining riders took off under sunny skies, a welcome contrast to yesterday's rainy affair.
There was one rider who couldn't wait today. Dionisio Galparsoro Martínez of Euskaltel - Euskadi didn't value his chances in a bunch sprint and took off inside the first kilometre. He quickly extended his lead to a minute at kilometre four over a peloton in a lull and had 2'51 after 10 kilometres of racing. Bad luck for the riders was the weather, which stopped cooperating and rain started to come down heavily, with showers on and off for the remainder of the stage.
Unfortunately for the Spaniard, nobody was willing to join him and so he kept soloing towards the finish. Not bothered by anybody, he extended his lead to 8'35 by kilometre 41, which he raced in one hour. A further six kilometres down the road, the lead was at 9'15. But the peloton was still day dreaming, so Galparsoro kept increasing his lead to 14 minutes.
But soon after the peloton had enough and started to take back some of the minutes they had granted the Euskaltel rider. The gap came down to 12'40 and when the leader reached Budrio, after 63 kilometres, the gap had gone down below the 12-minute mark.
At kilometre 70 the lead was just shy of dropping back into the single-digits, at 10'00 even. Going into San Giovanni Persiceto, the gap was 7'15 and at the exit of the town, it was down to 6'52. After 108 kilometres, Galparsoro hit the feed zone, five minutes ahead of the peloton.
With the well-fed peloton continuing to reduce the gap, the Spaniard had only 3'15 left with less than 50 kilometres to go. The weather continued to deteriorate for the peloton, and the rain began to fall more steadily and looked as if it would continue until the finish. At the 45-kilometre banner, the gap was down to 2'55.
Not surprisingly, Galparsoro took the Expo 2015 sprint of the day, after 131 kilometres. As the riders passed the Ferrari town of Modena, the weather definitely turned bad, with the riders quickly putting on rain jackets, as the gap was further reduced to 2'10, with 35 kilometres to go. Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval - Scott) probably enjoyed the giant banner that fans had hung up and possibly made him forget for a second about the rainy conditions.
Five kilometres later the lead was below the two-minute mark, at 1'50. At the 25-kilometre mark, it was down to one minute exactly, as the rain continued to come down and was promising a treacherous sprint finale. The white paint lines for the pedestrian crossings looked fatal, as the peloton was cautiously negotiating its way around the tight corners in the final kilometres.
A crash with less than 20 kilometres interrupted the chase a bit, but the relief for Galparsoro was only short. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Tony Martin (Team High Road), Matteo Priamo (CSF Group Navigare) and Alessandro Spezialetti (LPR Brakes) went down. Spezialetti was the worst off, as he was not only pretty beat up, but certainly lost any chances for a sprint. And while Erik Zabel didn't go down, he had to chase hard to get back to the peloton, with team-mates dropping back to help.
Ten kilometres before the finish, the break for Galparsoro was finally over. High Road was leading the bunch, and Zabel eventually reached the tail end of the bunch. At less than five kilometres to go, it was going to be hard for the German to get to the front, let alone sprint for the win. High Road's Adam Hansen and Bradley Wiggins were leading team-mate Mark Cavendish, but both domestiques were used up just after the one-kilometre banner.
There was a bit of a hesitation by Cavendish, but eventually Daniele Bennati made his move, with Cavendish coming very close, but not close enough and Robbie McEwen getting third.
Sensibly, the race jury decided to neutralise the race at three kilometres out, leaving the GC contenders with the option of staying out of the hectic finale, which would have been especially treacherous if the rain hadn't stopped.