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Welcome back to the Giro d'Italia, today moving up the Adriatic coastline for a pancake-flat 184 kilometres bound to end in a fast finish in Ravenna. Last chance for Cavendish, Petacchi et al. to sort it out at this years' race!
Buongiorno cycling lovers. Stage 12 was started at 12.57, and the attacks went from the gun. Four riders were able to make a gap after seven kilometres of racing: Michal Golas (Vacansoleil), Stef Clement (Rabobank), Davide Ricci Bitti (Farnese Vini) and Miguel Minguez Ayala (Euskaltel).
They have 45 seconds.
The group is definitely away. They have four minutes after 18 kilometres raced... This is going to be a long day out.
Our four escapees have no importance whatsoever in the overall standings. Golas is the "best-placed" at 52 minutes from race leader Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank).
Bjarne Riis will gladly be leaving the chase to the sprinters' teams...
Today's stage 12 started in Castelfiardo in beautiful weather conditions. Bright sunshine, temperatures at 16° Celsius. Not too hot... the riders will be enjoying this relatively tranquil stage before the Giro moves up into the mountains again tomorrow.
In Falconara, officials recorded a gap of 3.28 minutes.
Looking at the different points classifications, it seems today's stage is really all about the stage win - there is nothing more at stake - save for the most combative rider classification. If Alessandro Petacchi gets a good result in the finish today - and he theoretically should - he could take the honours from Alberto Contador as he is only one point behind the Spaniard.
Strange: the peloton is making up time rapidly on the breakaway at the moment. Only 2.50 minutes left for the attackers.
In any case, Petacchi will be motivated for the finish today in Ravenna. He won there in 2005 and it may be the last time he'll be up against Mark Cavendish at this year's Giro, as the HTC sprinter should be leaving Italia tonight. Ale-Jet will be lookign to make amends for lost opportunities since his stage win in Parma eleven days ago.
HTC-Highroad have been at the front of the bunch looking to keep the gap reasonable.
Stage 6 winner Francsico Ventoso (Movistar) is also one of today's top favourites. The Spaniard is in great shape and could again take advantage of the duel between Cavendish and Petacchi.
Each of these three top sprinters have won one stage already, who will be the first to make it two?
The average speed during the first hour of racing was 39.6 km/h. They are passing through Cesano now.
The latest time split gives the break an advantage of 2'28. It seems doomed already, and the four riders ahead should feel quite discouraged by it...
The gap has risen to 3'22", the bunch had mercy. Would have been a bit risky, too, to come up to them so eraly in the race.
We don't know if there is any wind on the coastline, either.
Clement leads the break as they've passed Riccione. It's a beautiful region, especially seen under bright sunshine.
They are on a large road now with some spectators out of town. HTC is still at the front of the bunch, strung out.
Ricci Bitti is getting a bite of food at his team car, and instructions: Ride, ride, ride and don't look back...
The temperature on the road has risen to about 23° Celsius, and the sea looks fantastic with sandy beaches and tree-covered cliffs.
The breakaway has come to the feed zone, riders are grabbing their bags. The current gap is 2'45".
But there's not only Cavendish, Petacchi and Ventoso to be reckoned with today. Oscar Gatto from Farnese Vini also scored a stage already and has proven mighty fast.
Quick Step have two good sprinters with Chicci and Ciolek, and although we haven't seen them until now, you never know when they might show up.
Also not to be counted out is Manuel Belletti from Colnago, he won a stage last year and will be eager to confirm.
Racing through Riccione now. This town seems to consist only of hotels, shops and restaurants, and of course the beach. Bella Vita!
There should be a good breeze coming from the sea now as we can see seople on the beach flying kites. The riders doen't seem disturbed by it, though - should be more of a tailwind.
Riders are chatting, the tempo stull isn't very high.
At least our breakaway quartet gets some cheers from the roadside spectators, they know they're bound to get reeled in.
This beach is massive. It just goes on and on.
We're in Rimini now. The name of this town will be forever linked to the death of Marco Pantani in 2004. In about 20 kilometres, we'll be in Cesenatico, where 'Il Pirata' was born in 1970.
HTC's Marco Pinotti has been pulling the bunch for a while now. There are three HTC riders at the front, followed by some Lotto and Vacansoleil riders.
The gap has been stable recently at just below three minutes.
Niemiec from Lampre is getting some bottles at the back of the bunch - a jerseyfull.
The riders are riding just along the sandy beach now. Anyone tempted to take a break and some gelato?
The gap is down to just over two minutes now, even though there has been no hard racing... With 60 kilometres to go, the riders are really taking it easy today, taking advantage of this flat stage to just roll along before the Giro hits the mountains again tomorrow.
Average speed after the thrid hour of racing: 40.6 km/h. That is the lowest calculated speed of the official timetable. The pace should pick up somewhat towards the end but don't expect the finish before 5.15pm CET.
Patrick Gretsch from HTC at the front of the bunch now as they go round a series of big roundabouts.
The gap is increasing again, now at 2.53 minutes.
Crash! Two AG2R riders, one is Gadret, standing at the side of the road, with two others. All are OK though, we didn't see what happened exactly.
They're back on the road chasing now.
The two other riders were Ardila (Geox) and Cardoso (Radioshack). Everybody's OK, though.
The intermediate sprint in Cesenatico was won by Ricci Bitti, followed by Golas and Clement.
An AG2R train has brought back Gadret and the others, they've just rejoined the back of the bunch.
Roman Kreuziger (Astana) takes the time to chat to his fellow countryman Simon Spilak from Lampre.
Both Cavendish and Petacchi look ready to get themselves fired up in a few.
40 clicks to go.
The gap is coming down... barely two minutes with 35 kilometres to go.
Renshaw already has Cav on his wheel, with Petacchi's lead-out man Hondo just behind.
They're on a wide two-lane road moving away from the coast towards Ravenna airport.
This is pink flamingo country!
Astana's Alexsandr Dyachenko has dropped back to get some water for his team leaders. The speed has indeed picked up to 45 km/h. We'll be at 60 in the finale... fofrtunately it's all long wide and straight roads towards the finish in Ravenna.
Cav is tightening his shoes.
Another AG2R rider has a mechanical.
It4s Montaguti, he's getting a new rear wheel. What a drag to chase back on in a sprint finale....
Our four front riders still hang onto their lead but there's only over a minute left now. They get some applause as they ride over a bridge.
The road is nice and wide now, HTC is still at the front and probably won't give up that position until the end.
The gap is now dropped under a minute, the riders in the break throw away their bottles to get some last, fresh ones from their team cars before they have to drop back.
The bunch passes under a highway bridge, still taking up all the width of the road. But positioning to the front is now starting to become serious.
Lotto has now started a train next to the HTC one. Lampre is staying behind.
The racing is on! 15 seconds to the break.
Now they're strung out. One rider missed the right hand side of a roundabout - and his position.
The break is caught, a new race begins.
The bunch again separated at a roundabout. HTC still in the front, followed by Liquigas and Acqua and Sapone.
Everybody wants to get to the front now, even Contador is looking for a space where noone is in front of him.
Petacchi is on Cavendish's wheel. Good positioning!
Still wide roads out of town. There will be a last bend just before the last kilomtere, but that's it.
Movistar have not shown themselves yet, now they do. One rider taking to the front now.
But HTC doesn't want to give the lead away. Back in charge.
BMC running to the front now, beside the HTC train still led by Pinotti.
Sky is also seen in front. Large boulevards.
Petacchi still on Cav's wheel, who is in fourth position.
There's a bend, and another yet to come. Positions unchanged.
Whoops, Renshaw swerved there but got back in control. Adrenaline!
crash! Modolo from Colnago?
The front 20 riders still together
Ciolek is there, Belletti...
Cavendish takes it, in front of Apollonio from Sky, Petacchi third
The other groups come in. There was noone hurt as far as we could see
Great result for Appolonio. He almost got Cavendish, too, Petacchi just couldn't come past Cavendish, he was just too fast.
Top ten results:
1 Mark Cavendish (THR)
2 Davide Appollonio (SKY)
3 Alessandro Petacchi (LAM)
4 Roberto Ferrari (AND)
5 Gerald Ciolek (QST)
6 Fabio Sabatini (LIQ)
7 Manuel Belletti (COG)
8 Mirko Selvaggi (VCD)
9 Mark Renshaw (THR)
10 Manuel Cardoso (RSH)
That's it for today, please join us again tomorrow for the first Dolomite mountain stage to the Grossglockner summit finish. Ciao tutti!