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Welcome to our live coverage of stage 12 of the 2012 Giro d'Italia, which runs over a distance of 157km from Seravezza in the province of Tuscany to the town of Sestri Levante on Italy's north west coast. After yesterday's flat stage - the longest of the Giro - the riders face a shorter but much more undulating challenge today. Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez is the current holder of the pink jersey and will be looking to consolidate his lead on a stage that should play to his strengths.
Bright sunshine greets the riders at the start. As we pass 1pm local time the thermometers are creeping above 20 degrees Celsius.
Let's take some time out to quickly recap on where we are at the moment. Roberto Ferrari won stage 11 yesterday, which was again marred by a last corner crash. Here's yesterday's top ten:
1 Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 6:49:05
2 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
3 Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
4 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling
5 Manuel Belletti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
6 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan
7 Daniel Schorn (Aut) Team NetApp
8 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
9 Danilo Wyss (Swi) BMC Racing Team
10 Geoffrey Soupe (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
And Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez retained the pink leader's jersey and tops the overall GC:
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 47:16:39
2 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:17
3 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:32
4 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana Pro Team 0:00:52
5 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:57
7 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:02
8 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:01:03
9 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:09
10 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:01:10
In the race for the red jersey as the leader of the points classification, Mark Cavendish's fourth place in yesterday's stage took him to the top of the standings:
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 77 pts
2 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team 65
3 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 55
4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox 49
5 Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Col) Androni Giocattoli 36
6 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 36
7 Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) Movistar Team 32
8 Geoffrey Soupe (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 32
9 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 31
10 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 29
In store today for the riders is a flat opening 50km followed by four categorised climbs. There's a final climb 11km from the finish, which precedes a fast descent to the line. And in case you were wondering - yes, there is another tricky looking bend a few hundred metres from the end. So more finale drama cannot be ruled out. Here's our detailed lowdown on stage 12 - maps, elevation, bluffer's guide. All you need to know...
We're just over 20km into the stage and the peloton is still bunched together at this point.
And it's many happy returns to Colnago's neo pro Sonny Colbrelli, who celebrates his 22nd birthday with a ride in the Giro today. He shares his special day with boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard and NBA superstar Tony Parker.
FDJ-BigMat's William Bonnet did not start the race today. It appears that his heavy crash in Denmark at the beginning of the race has finally taken its toll on the Frenchman.
As I mentioned yesterday, there's a pretty big race going on in the USA this week as well. I reported that Liquigas rider Peter Sagan (above) had won the first three stages over at the Tour of California - well now he has won four out of four. Pretty amazing stuff. Here's a report on his latest victory, plus video highlights.
Matteo Carrara (Vacansoleil-DCM) just put in the first significant attack of the day, but was quickly reeled back in by the peloton. The riders remain bunched together as they approach the hour mark.
And not far away on the horizon now is the first categorised climb of the day at La Foce. It's a 240m category 3. Chances are that we'll see a breakaway group reasonably soon.
Here's a quick plug for our new weekly digital magazine for iPads, Cyclingnews HD. Issue three came out yesterday and you can find out more about it and purchase and subscribe right here.
And we have our first break of the day. A handful of riders have opened up a gap on the main peloton, led by Lotto Belisol's Lars Bak.
And the breakaway group contains seven riders in total: Bak, Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat), Ivan Santaromita (BMC), Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan), Luca Mazzanti (Farnese Vini), Andrey Amador (Movistar) and Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
They have opened up a gap of 25 seconds.
Golas is well-placed in the mountains classification, lying in second - 8 points behind jersey holder Miguel Rubiano. With this break, and the numerous points on offer for today's climbs, he will be confident of closing that gap and possibly leapfrogging his Androni Giocattoli rival.
The gap is now up to 1:10. Jan Barta (NetApp) had set off in pursuit of the breakaway riders but didn't have the legs and has come back to the peloton.
And two riders have now emerged from the peloton to chase the seven breakaway riders. Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giacottoli) are in pursuit. Keizer has been here before in this Giro.
The break are 25 seconds clear of the chasing duo and just over three minutes ahead of the main peloton. Pace is increassing steadily.
There's been verbal fisticuffs this morning between Frank Schleck (RadioShack) and Alex Rasmussen (Garmin-Barracuda). What's it all about? Find out right here
And the chasing pair have caught the breakaway group. That makes it a lead group of nine now, and they are just over two and a half minutes clear of the pack.
Katusha seem to be controlling the pace in the main peloton, riding for their leader Rodriguez. That's of course Joaquim - not Jackson, who is in the breakaway group. Commentator's nightmare unfolding here...
And the results of the first climb are in. Golas takes it from Bakelants, with Bak back in third. Did you see what I did there?
So, after that flurry of activity, let's take stock. The breakaway nine are now on the descent of the first climb and are 1:40 clear as we go past halfway.
Ivan Basso was one of the pre-race favourites and won the Giro in 2010. We managed to catch up with him after yesterday's eleventh stage and you can read what he had to say here. He currently lies in sixth overall, 57 seconds behind pink.
Gap is up to three minutes as the leaders start climbing again. Golas is hunting more mountain points.
Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) comes down in the pelton and looks in a lot of pain. He's being attended to by medical staff.
RCS feed was giving us misinformation - it's not Mazzanti in the break, it's Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Katusha are doing a decent job of controlling the pace in the main peloton. Escapees Casar and Santaromita are both around four minutes behind Rodriguez in the overall GC, so Katusha will have that in their minds.
Liquigas and Lampre-ISD are also prominent though. They have Basso and Scarponi respectively to protect. The leaders are now starting to descend.
Three things have really stood out today: 1 the beautiful weather 2 the beautiful scenery 3 Farnese Vini-Selle Italia's kit
Gap is up to over four minutes with 60km left.
Confirmation that Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Golas has taken the second categorised climb of the day at Valico di Guaitarola. It was a 617m category 3.
So we all remember that this year's Giro started in Denmark. So with foreign climbs in mind (pun definitely intended), what were the top ten Tour de France starts outside France? Did London in 2007 (above) make the list? We looked through the history books and found the answers, so have a look right here and debate it with your friends over a beer this weekend...
Gap is creeping up. Not too far from the five-minute mark now. The peloton will need to stay tuned in to this...
5:30 and growing with 50km to go...
This gap is manageable at this stage. If it creeps up towards the eight-minute point then there could be GC ramifications though.
The leaders are now well into their latest descent and edging closer to the longest and highest climb of the stage - the category 2 Valico La Mola. How much do they have left? We'll find out over the next few minutes
Casar could be the dangerman here, as far as the breakaway group goes. They are now almost 6:30 up with 40km left.
The gap is now seven minutes. It's looking increasingly likely that this group won't be caught. The main issue is the GC - Rodriguez and his closest rivals are around four minutes clear of Santaromita and Casar, so that's the time they need to peg back at the very least...
Alfredo Balloni has dropped his chain. Team is taking its time getting him back on the road...
Liquigas appear to be live to the challenge from the breakaway group and the danger it may spell to Basso. They have swept to the front of the peloton.
Liquigas have pulled the peloton along and the gap is now falling towards the five-minute mark. The leaders are now in sight of the category 2 Valico La Mola. The entire complexion of the race could change in the next few minutes.
Let's just revisit what lies in wait for the riders in the closing stages. It's set to be another exciting finale. After a final climb 11km from the finish, there's a fast descent into the town of Sestri Levante, followed by a fairly flat last 5km that features a sharp bend 500m from the winning line.
Golas has opened up a 15-second gap on the leading breakaway group as he chases even more mountain points. Back down the road the peloton, led by Liquigas, have worked effectively to reduce the gap back down to 4:23.
Defending champion Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) has run off the course and lost some valuable seconds there...
And almost at exactly the same time, Bakelants loses control on a corner and consequently loses touch with the breakaway group. So we're down to eight at the head of affairs now...
Golas really pushing it here and overdoes it, having to break almost to a standstill on one of the tighter bends. He has a 15-second gap on the first chase group and a gap of 5:04 over the main peloton.
15km to go for Golas and he's almost 30 seconds clear of the chasers. Key here might well be the gap between the chasers and the main peloton as we need to keep out eye on that four-minute GC deficit. The gap is currently roughly 4:30, so if the stage ended now Casar would be in pink.
And it looks like Casar is onto this. He is pace-setting at the front of the chasers. Bakelants, meanwhile, has caught them back up.
Golas has been caught and Casar is on the attack as they tackle this final climb. The Frenchman can sense both a stage win and the pink jersey. But after so long on the front, how much does he have left. And let's not discount Santaromita from the GC equation either.
Santaromita is in Casar's slipstream and hasn't worked as hard as his rival this afternoon. They have hit the top of the climb and are descending fast. All to play for here...
Tiralongo is attacking from the peloton as he looks to take pink. He is lying in third place. The pelton are now close to closing the gap to the all-important four-minute mark.
Gap is 3:50
Liquigas are not allowing Tiralongo to make a decisive move. They have him in their sights.
Getting close to the end now. Descent has been completed. Casar needs a gap of 3.42 if he wins the stage as the 20-second bonus will take him top of the GC.
Jackson Rodriguez has made a bid for glory and has burst clear of the leading pack but is caught quickly
Casar and Santaromita need to go for it if they have designs on pink - the pelton will finish fast. 4:00 gap with 2km left...
Lars Bak goes clear. Gap is coming down
Looks like a decisive move by Bak. Stage win in his sights. Casar and Santaromita can probably kiss the pink jersey goodbye.
Bak wins, Casar 2nd
All eyes on the gap to the peloton and who makes moves from there. Casar has bagged a 12-second bonus so needs a gap of 3:48 to take pink...
Peleton is finishing fast and it appears that Casar's hopes of taking pink are fading.
Joaquim Rodriguez crosses the line in an unofficial 3:37 - looks like he will keep the pink jersey but unconfirmed as yet
TOP THREE STAGE 12:
1 Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol)
2 Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat)
3 Andrei Amador (Movistar)
That was Bak's first road stage win since the 2009 Eneco Tour. Casar fought hard but may look back on an opportunity missed.
Just waiting on official top tens for stage and GC... shouldn't be long
OFFICIAL TOP 8 - STAGE 12
1 Lars Ytting Bak (Den) Lotto Belisol Team 3:58:55
2 Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:00:11
3 Andrey Amador Bakkazakova (CRc) Movistar Team
4 Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan
5 Ivan Santaromita (Ita) BMC Racing Team
6 Jackson Rodriguez (Ven) Androni Giocattoli
7 Amets Txurruka (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
8 Martijn Keizer (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:43
OFFICIAL TOP 8 - OVERALL GC
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 51:19:08
2 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:17
3 Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:00:26
4 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:32
5 Ivan Santaromita (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:00:49
6 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana Pro Team 0:00:52
7 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team
8 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:57
And that concludes our live coverage from stage 12 of this year's Giro d'Italia. A road stage victory for Bak that had been a long time in the making; a huge jump from Casar into 3rd overall, but a hint of missed opportunity; and consolidation for Rodriguez, who retains the pink jersey. Join us tomorrow for live coverage of stage 13, and keep a lookout here for a full report, results, pictures and post-race interviews and talking points from this afternoon.