Castelfidardo - Ravenna
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What a great sprint there - Cav pipped Appollonio by half a wheel, with Petacchi taking third.
Cav goes first... Petacchi and Appollonio have his wheel... this is tight... the Sky sprinter looks to have the better of Cav... but the Manxman delivers a second Giro win!
Perfect situation for Cav. But Petacchi, Ciolek and Appollonio are there...
Cav safely through the final bend. The train is still on course... but only just 10 or so riders in contention now.
CRASH: Four or so riders go down at the penultimate tight bend. None of the big names...
Renshaw seemed to slip a gear there and almost stacked it. Phew, lucky. The train is still going strong.
Here's the first of those tight bends. They're all through safely. Two more 90-degree ones to go till the final sprint.
Cavendish is four back in the HTC train, behind Renshaw, with Petacchi right on his wheel.
BMC are alongside HTC now. Loads of teams trying to get a slice of the action.
Movistar's Sergio Pardilla is right on teh front now, trying to get in HTC's faces. Now Liquigas are right up there. As is Giovanni Visconti and some of his Farnese men.
Sky's Peter Kennaugh is up there too for Davide Appollonio. Colnago have some men there for local lad Manuel Belletti.
Vacansoleil's Hoogerland is there too, which is odd given that Borut Bozic, his team's sprinter, left the race two days ago. Maybe the Dutchman is going to go for a long one?
The only way to beat Cavendish on this kind of finish is to disrupt the HTC train.
Liquigas send their men to the front, as do Omega Pharma-Lotto. And Movistar - for Ventoso.
Needless to say, the leading group was caught. It's all HTC now as the peloton strings out massively.
ALMOST A CRASH: There's a huge bottleneck in the road ahead of a roundabout and some riders have to cross the grass, while another has to take drastic action and head the long way round. That looked dicey.
The gap's just 20 seconds now. It's curtains for the escapees. Last man to win in Ravenna was Alessandro Petacchi back in 2005. Can he do it again?
Now Saxo Bank make their presence known, keeping their man out of trouble.
The lead is just one minute now as other teams head to the front to get a piece of the action. We haven't seen Contador or Saxo Bank all day - taking it easy ahead of a very hard weekend.
It's all HTC on the front as the four leaders ride just 1:20 further up the field. The peloton are on the outskirts of Ravenna. They will head down to the coast, see the sea one last time, then head back inland to the finish.
AG2R's Matteo Montaguti needs a wheel change. Bad timing - the Italian had worked his socks off to get Gadret back into the bunch.
Cavendish's lead-out man Mark Renshaw is already primed on the front of the peloton. The lead has dropped to 1:50 now.
The lead is 2:08. The temperature at the finish in Ravenna is 24 degrees centigrade.
Cavendish, wearing green-framed sunglasses, looks pretty relaxed back in the peloton. It will be a different story in an hour's time... I said Gadret was back in the bunch earlier - that's not the case. He's still being paced back by four AG2R team-mates.
The peloton passes a river covered with a bunch of pink flamingoes. Alberto Contador must feel at home.
Michele Scarponi has a chat with white jersey Roman Kreuziger back in the peloton. Gadret is back in the bunch after that fall. He has a blue plaster on his right knee.
The leaders pass through a very Venetian looking Cesenatico, with old sailing ships filling the waterways. The lead is 2:40.
Ricci Bitti takes the intermediate sprint ahead of Golas and Clement.
For some reason, Vacansoleil's Johnny Hoogerland is mixing it up with the HTC boys on the front of the peloton. Bit of a maverick is old Johnny. "I have no idea what he's doing, but then again I never have any idea what he's doing whenever I see him," says Eurosport's Sean Kelly. A law unto himself is the Dutchman. But he's entertaining, to say the least.
CRASH: Yesterday's stage winner John Gadret is one of about six riders that hit the deck from the peloton. A few of his AG2R team-mates are waiting for him. Wonder is Nicolas Roche would have been so charitable were he racing the Giro...
Euskaltel's Igor Anton has a mechanical problem and is forced to drop back to the team car. He's now being paced back into the bunch by his team-mates. Anton's been quiet so far in this Giro, but he should come to life a bit over the next 10 days in the mountains.
It's a pretty relaxing day in the saddle for all but four riders at the moment. That will change, of course, as the pack approaches Ravenna for the last showdown bunch sprint of the race - should that happen, as expected. The quartet have a 2:10 gap over the peloton. A reminder of their names: Michal Golas (Vacansoleil), Davide Ricci Bitti (Farnese Vini), Stef Clement (Rabobank) and Miguel Minguez (Euskaltel).
If this was a game of chess it would be stalemate at the moment. It's a real battle of attrition out there, with the peloton uninterested in reeling the four men in now because it's way too early. As for the leaders, their gap remains 2:35 and so there's little change. Even the views are the same: beach and the Adriatic Sea to the right, buildings and resort high-rises to the left.
The sun may be out but there aren't many Italians on the beach - the water's still probably rather chilly at this early stage of the summer. Earlier Cav spoke to Eurosport: "It's going to be a long day today for the guys. We'll stick to the plan, holding out line at the end before Mark Renshaw takes me 200m from the finish. It hasn't been a bad giro for us. We won the ITT. Marco Pinotti wore the pink jersey, so did I. I've won a stage and hopefully I'll win another."
Meanwhile, Clement munches on a banana - and even tries to push it into the lens of the camera man. This four-man break don't stand a chance, but maybe they just fancied a different day in the saddle. It can get boring and repetitive riding in the peloton on days like this, at least now they've got a change of scenary.
Minguez takes a cold coke out of his musette and puts the can it down the back of his jersey to cool his shoulders.
It's lunch time for the leaders, who pass through the feeding zone with a lead of 2:41.
Still the HTC-Highroad team of Mark Cavendish on the front of the peloton.
No one has picked up two wins so far in this year's Giro, which is odd seeing that we're onto stage 12. Well, it would be in most years, but given the 2011 route, it's hardly surprising that the spoils have been shared out. Today should see that change: surely either Petacchi or Cavendish will take it. Although Hans Stam, below, feels Oscar Gatto, the stage 8 winner, could spring a surprise on the technical finish.
Stef Clement is a former Dutch time trial champion so he's a good man to have in a long, flat break. As for Ricci Bitti, he was involved in a breakaway early on in the race, stage two if my memory serves me right.
The four leaders are onto that rise with a lead of 3:08 over the HTC-pronged bunch. Lovely weather today in Italy.
There's a very slight rise in the road up ahead as the leaders approach the town of Cattabrighe. Their gap is now 3:22 with the feeding zone on the other side of this small hill.
The lead is still hovering around the 2:55 mark.
The average speed of the race for the first hour today was 39.6 km/h but that has now risen to 43 km/h with the chase on for those leading four riders.
The general consensus is that stage 12 will be a showdown between Petachhi and Cavendish, whose HTC team is controlling the situation on the front of the peloton.
David Patrick believes that most of the GC contenders are now riding for second place in the hope that WADA and the UCI win their appeal against Contador: "I think a few riders will be aiming for second in the hope that Contador has the book thrown at him in June. Not the most elegant way of winning (how many people can name the winner of the Tour when Landis got kicked out?) but probably the only chance most of them have."
Let's have a closer look at the four escapees. Dutchman Clement, 28, is making his second Giro appearance five years after his first, back in 2006 for Bouygues Telecom. His biggest win came in the Dauphine Libere in 2009. Golas, 27, is riding his first Giro. Spanish rookie Minguez, 22, is the youngest of the four and like the Pole is competing in his debut Giro. He has no UCI wins to his name. Ditto Ricci Bitti, the 27-year-old Italian also riding his first Giro.
This group is going nowhere: the lead drops to under three minutes now.
So, who's going to win today's stage in Ravenna? Have your say below - and make sure you give some reasons. Also, can anyone beat Alberto Contador in this year's Giro or is it now a race for second place? If the latter, who will finish second on the podium?
Having passed the town of Ancona, the riders are now heading up the coast towards Pesaro. The sea is less choppy than it was two days ago. The four leaders have seen their advantage cut to 3:05.
The gap has grown to 4:50. Yesterday, bald Frenchman John Gadret won stage 11 to Castelfidaro with a timely break in the final kilometre. His win sent our blogger Blazin' Saddles down memory lane, recalling an instance in last year's Tour de France when Gadret refused to lend his team-mate Nicolas Roche his back wheel. Read that, plus Saddles' Twitter spat with Mark Cavendish below...
Pole Golas is the highest placed rider in the GC from this group - but at 52:24 down in 93rd position, he's hardly a threat to the big boys.
This four-man breakaway is making serious progress: the lead is now four minutes.
The finish today, while flat, is not entirely straight forward: there are three 90-degree corners and a number of roundabouts in the final 3km into Ravenna. These can be pretty treacherous when the lead-out trains are in full bloom, but the roads are wide and so hopefully there'll be no spills.
Four riders on an early attack: Michal Golas (Vacansoleil), Davide Ricci Bitti (Farnese Vini), Stef Clement (Rabobank) and Miguel Minguez (Euskaltel). The quartet have around 45 seconds on the peloton. Suckers for punishment, these guys. Surely no break stands a chance today of all days!
So, today's one for the sprinters' teams, which means pink jersey Alberto Contador and Saxo Bank can conserve some energy ahead of the mountains. Mark Cavendish is the likely winner, but don't discount Alessandro Petacchi who won when the Giro last visited Ravenna back in 2005. Colnago's Manuel Belletti hails from the area so will be keen to make an impression, and you can throw in the likes of Ventoso, Ferrari and Appollonio.
It's another sunny day in Italy, with temperatures currently around 20 degrees but set to rise to 26 during the afternoon. The hilltop town of Castelfidardo was granted a finish and a start in this year's race, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification. Our sources tell us this is due to Castelfidardo being the site of a famous Italian victory over the French army defending the Papel States back in September 1860.
186 riders took to the start of today's stage, a final hurrah for the sprinters in what has been a Giro devoid of totally flat stages - until now.
Stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia is a pancake-flat 184 kilometre coastal slog to Ravenna which is all but certain to end in a bunch sprint ahead of the return of the mountains on Friday.