Giro Stage 12: A Tactical Masterclass in Bagno di Romagna
A strategic clinic is doled out on a difficult stage
The theme of the 2021 Giro d’Italia has been near-constant rain, difficult stages, survival of early breakaway, and previously unknown riders getting maiden grand tour stage wins, and stage 12 proved to be no different. Andrea Vendrame from AG2R put on a clinic with a tactical masterclass performance on the final climb to win the stage ahead of Chris Hamilton and George Bennett.
Way, way back in the peloton, the general classifications contender seized an opportunity to take it somewhat easy despite a large number of meters climbed. However, Vincenzo Nibali, never one to let a detente go unpunished, threw down a trademark downhill attack on the descent into the finish line, which goaded Gianni Moscon into chasing him and caused his Italian rival to crash after his front wheel slipped out in a corner.
Nibali held off the rest of the GC field by the finish line by 7-seconds but is still over four minutes down in the overall standings. The Moscon crash could be significant since it could weaken the already weakened team going into the brutal final week, and the fact that the Shark of Messina has signaled his intent to sow chaos at any cost should seriously concern Ineos, along with any other GC contenders.
Stage 12 Notebook:
212km - 164km: The stage starts incredibly fast due to every non-GC focused rider attempting to get up the road knowing that Ineos won’t be motivated to chase them down. Marc Soler and Alessandro De Marchi crash out and Fausto Masnada leaves the race due to knee pain. Soler was hanging around the top of the GC standings and was Movistar’s main focus at this race, so this is a huge loss.
160-km: A 16-rider breakaway finally gets away. The riders are: George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo), Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), Chris Hamilton (Team DSM), Geoffrey Bouchard, Andrea Vendrame (AG2R Citroën), Mikkel Honoré (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Simone Petilli (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Guy Niv (Israel Start-Up Nation), Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka Assos), Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix), Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa), Simone Ravanelli, Natnael Tesfazion (Androni-Giocattoli-Sidermec).
75km: Ineos is on the front at a steady, but not overly hard pace, as evidenced by the 9-minute gap to the breakaway. As usual, rain hit the peloton mid-stage. Note how good the Ineos riders are at getting their rain jackets on mid-stage while riding. I would guess they practice this and work with their clothing sponsors to make jackets that are easier to put on and zip up.
18.2km: Brambilla starts attacking and breaking up the front of the breakaway on the final climb.
17.7km: George Bennett attacks from the back of the group, but he isn’t last wheel and telegraphs the move, which allows Vendrame from AG2R to get right on his wheel and easily follow. Also, Brambilla is looking right at him before he passes him, which gives him a chance to respond.
Another issue is that Bennett doesn’t build up nearly enough speed before coming by the front of the group and Brambilla and Hamilton can easily latch on.
17.7km: Andrea Vendrame, the sprinter in the group, smartly uses Bennett’s acceleration as a launchpad and counter-attacks a few moments later. He immediately gets a gap and we can see Bennett is in trouble since he is looking around for someone else to close it down.
17.3km: Vendrame’s strategic skills become clear when we see there is a short descent following his attack that lets him extend his lead without pedaling. This type of strategic thinking about attacks is almost a lost art, but this is a great example of how a rider that isn’t as strong as the others can use superior course knowledge to drop the others.
16km: The climbing starts again and Bennett, Brambilla, and Hamilton are chasing roughly 12-second behind Vendrame. This sizable gap shows us how well he used the dip in the road to extend his lead. This is important because he didn’t actually expend that much more energy than the chasers, and has given himself a buffer before the steepest part of the climb.
14.3km: Vendrame is holding a 7-second gap over the chasers, which is really impressive since he isn’t a climbing specialist. Bennett should be better here.
14km: Hamilton attacks from the chasing trio on a steep part of the climb and quickly bridges the gap. If Vendrame hadn’t attacked earlier, he would be getting dropped by Hamilton right here, but instead, Hamilton is using his superior climbing skills to simply get even with Vendrame.
10.8km: All four riders now together at the front as they near the top of the climb. Brambilla and Bennett have gotten caught up in some sort of fight and keep forcing each other off the back instead of focusing on staying with the other two.
10.7km: Bennett tries to attack but is easily reeled in. He needed to do this 6km-ago if he really wanted to make it to the line solo.
10.4km: Brambilla attacks over the top and has a slight, slight gap, but will be brought back. The three riders named not Vendrame have really screwed up here. They needed to drop him on the climb but allowed him to pull out a clever buffer, which allowed him to stay with them. It will be almost impossible to drop him now, and they take him to the line, he will most certainly beat them.
9.4km: Ciccone attacks from the peloton. Ineos, who has been chilling on the front, is now forced to respond.
9km: Nibali follows. This is a planned ambush. Anyone who is struggling after yesterday could be found out here.
5.2km: The Trek duo are brought back but they still keep the pressure on. This is Nibali’s playbook, he presses on the climbs and over the top and onto the descent to force riders to make mistakes. Ineos is down to two riders plus Bernal.
3.6km: Brambilla is clearly fuming about something. He comes to the front of the breakaway, kind of attacks, then sits up and signals for the others to pull through, the universal sign of “please help me beat you in this race”. This is absurd for many reasons, but the main one is that the rest of the group doesn’t have any reason to pull, since nobody is up the road and the closest chaser is close to a minute behind.
3km: After realizing he can’t trick the other three to take him to the finish and allow him to win, Brambilla goes to sit really far off the back of the group and tightens his shoes, which is the universal sign for ‘attack about to happen.’
2.9km: But instead of attacking, Brambilla continues to sit at the back, even as Hamilton attacks from the front with Vendrame. He simply sits on Bennett’s wheel, who looks around and stares at him while the win rides up the road. This is insane. They have both missed the move to prove some weird point to each other.
2.5km: Brambilla and Bennett are still fighting as the win rides up the road! What is going on!?
2.2km: Vendrame has counterattacked Hamilton and is trying to drop him. This is kind of a bold move since Vendrame is the better sprinter. Hamilton is clawing his way back on, but he looks incredibly non-aero on his bike. This will make the difference in the final 1km.
1km: The two are together and trading pulls, not really messing around since the two behind are finally chasing.
.8km: The two leaders have ten seconds and will stay away, but Hamilton, the inferior sprinter, is just sitting on. Vendrame even looks behind at him as though he expects an attack, but doesn’t see anything that would indicate one is incoming. Notice how much more upright Hamilton is on his bike than Vendrame. This is likely due to his mountain bike background.
Vendrame opens up the sprint early and confidently and easily wins the stage. Yet another young and relatively unknown rider wins their first career grand tour stage at this year’s Giro.
Back in the peloton:
Nibali is ripping the descent and has a good gap. However, he’s over 4 minutes back and won’t be able to get any serious time today. They should let him go since he just wants to pull them into following him and then crashing.
And sure enough, Moscon crashes on the descent. Something like this can weaken a team for the third week.
Nibali extends his gap after Moscon crashes and finishes the stage 7-seconds in front of the rest of the GC group.
As I said in the race notes, Vendrame’s win was the result of superior race craft and course knowledge. He was the weakest climber in that group of 4, but used his energy more efficiently to gain time on the short descents and give himself a buffer on the final steep section.
As soon as he made it up and over that final climb with the other three, the race was over.
If Bennett or Hamilton wanted to win the stage, they needed to drop him on the climb, but instead, they had to use their superior climbing abilities just to get even with him before the summit.
The Brambilla/Bennett fight was bizarre, and we may never know exactly what happened, but it is also a reminder of just how irrational the sport is and how frayed tempers can be difficult to control after nearly two straight weeks of racing.
Bennett really disappointed with his climbing at the end of this stage. He should have been able to drop the other three. He telegraphed his attack far too much and was much too close to the others when he came by them. This allowed them to jump right into his slipstream, which was important due to the headwind, and use him as a launchpad for their own attacks.
Nibali takes 7-seconds at the finish and potentially injures out a key Ineos domestique, so certainly accomplished his goal.
It is worth noting is that Nibali was on disc brakes while Moscon was on rim brakes. Disc brakes provide much superior control on descents.
Nibali looks strong in this final straight. I know I’ve ragged on his odds of winning since he has a broken wrist and hasn’t won a grand tour in five years, but he certainly looked good here. I hate that I’m even saying this, but are we looking at a potential shark attack in the final week?
Nibali’s downhill attacks are designed to put others under pressure and make them more likely to crash, which is a key piece of his quiver. He puts less skilled descenders under pressure and they crash. He is so good at putting others in positions to make mistakes.
At the end of the day, it was silly that Moscon was even following him. It made no sense. Ineos could have easily pulled him back after the descent and fast descent was clearly a trap. However, goading other riders into ego-competitions is another key skill of Nibali and Moscon fell for it.
The crash is significant because Ineos lost Sivakov in the first week and if Moscon is injured, they could be down two key riders by the third week.
Speaking of depleted teams, Fausto Masnada on DQS withdrew from the race today. This is a huge loss for Evenepoel since Masnada was supposed to be his main source of support in the high mountains.
One other note is that this Giro has been hit by a ton of rain, and today was no different. As we saw at last year’s race, there is wide variability in how skilled riders are at putting rain jackets on during the race, and I’ve been extremely impressed with how good every Ineos rider is at getting their jackets on while riding. It seemed like every other team except Ineos really struggled with that today. The weather will continue to be poor as they head into the northern mountains and this could come into play at key points in the big stages.
Stage 13 Preview & Predictions
Stage 13 takes the peloton back through the Po Valley, which is notable for its lack of any significant hills and is by far the flattest part of the extremely mountainous country. The 198km stage is as flat as they come in Italy and I fully expect tomorrow to be a bunch gallop in Verona.
This is the last sprint stage of this year’s Giro, so the teams of Fernando Gaviria, Giacomo Nizzolo, Elia Viviani, and Peter Sagan will be eager to keep the break in check.
The stage finishes in Verona, which despite being the setting of the play Romeo & Juliet, has a rich cycling history and has hosted the Road World Championships twice, 1999 and 2004. Amazingly, the same rider, Óscar Freire, won both of those World Championships.
Prediction: Peter Sagan keeps his sprint win streak rolling and takes his second stage win over Gaviria and Nizzolo.