Three and easy for parting Andre Greipel in Bibione
German veteran Andre Greipel benefited from a flawless Lotto Soudal train to win stage 12 at Bibione – before bidding farewell to the 99th edition of the Giro ahead of the mountains.
It was Greipel’s third win in this year's 99th edition of La Corsa Rosa and a record-equalling 20th Grand Tour scalp for Germany.
Greipel used all his experience to hold his line on the finishing straight of the flat 182-kilometre stage from Noale in the Veneto, forcing Australian youngster Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) to swing off the barriers and settle for second place in a chaotic conclusion to an otherwise sedate but sodden stage.
Italy's Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) took third place ahead of compatriot Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) while Russian Alexander Porsev completed the top five for Katusha. There were no changes on the overall standings, with Luxembourg’s Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) maintaining his 24-second lead over Costa Rican Andre Amador (Movistar) in the fight for pink.
Heavy rain dogged the long and uneventful stage in north-east Italy and forced the race organisers to neutralise the finish and take the times for the overall standings at the conclusion of the first of two highly-technical eight-kilometre laps through the centre of the seaside resort.
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That decision saw many riders – including the maglia rosa and his GC rivals – take their foot off the gas on the final lap to allow the teams of the big sprinters to do battle. Ironically, the wet conditions that had dogged the peloton from the outset had given way to sunshine on the Adriatic coast.
With five team-mates leading Greipel onto the final lap, Lotto Soudal exploited their numerical advantage to set up their 33-year-old talisman with aplomb. A crash with three kilometres remaining further whittled down the numbers contesting the final sprint – but there was never any doubt once Greipel opened up his sprint on the home straight.
Ewan tried to sneak past in the narrowing gap between Greipel and the barriers but once the German closed the door his rival was forced to ease up and alter his line.
“I started my sprint first and could choose my line as I wanted to. I saw Caleb but he chose the wrong side – his time will come though,” Greipel said after praising his Lotto Soudal team-mates.
“It makes me proud to reach this goal [of 20 Grand Tour stage wins] and be in the shape that I am. I’m really satisfied with the work of my team, which was awesome. It was a really nice victory for myself and the team.”
Greipel also confirmed that he would not take to the start of Friday’s mountainous stage 13 – despite leading the red jersey points standings.
“I’m going to leave this evening,” he told Eurosport’s Giro Extra. “Of course I’m happy about it but I’m a human being and not a machine. I have other goals this season and I need to rest up.”
BIG WINNER OF THE DAY
The sixth Giro stage win of his career saw Greipel level compatriot Erik Zabel's record haul of 20 Grand Tour stage wins. And with July's Tour de France and the world championships in Qatar both big targets for the Rostock Gorilla, it's no surprise that Greipel has thrown in the towel ahead of a tough series of stages in the mountains.
Greipel makes it three in ItalyAFP
BIG LOSER OF THE DAY
Caleb Ewan had a great chance to take a maiden Giro stage win ahead of the mountains – and while he clearly had the speed, he didn’t have the tactical nous to come past the experienced Greipel. As the German said, the 21-year-old’s time will come. But it remains to be seen if he hangs round until next Wednesday’s stage 17 and the penultimate chance for the sprinters in this year’s race.
Once the two-man break of Daniel Oss (BMC) and Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF) was reeled in with 22 kilometres remaining there was little doubt how the stage would pan out. But the decision to neutralise the final lap of the finale and take GC times at the penultimate crossing of the line changed the way many riders rode the last eight kilometres – for better or for worse.
Were the organisers too swift to neutralise the finale, given the dry roads and sunshine that awaited the peloton once it whizzed into Bibione? Regardless of the decision, some riders weren’t happy with the criterium-style circuit, which boasted no fewer than 16 tight bends and three roundabouts in eight kilometres.
“It was a dangerous finale with very narrow roads and a lot of bends,” said Italy’s Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep). “No one is interested in safety or the riders’ lives. It’s ok neutralising for the GC guys but what about the sprinters? The bends were just about OK but why not make the roads a little wider?”
Friday’s 170km stage from Palmanova to Cividale del Friuli will test the mettle of maglia rosa Bob Jungels, with four categorised climbs that could do some serious damage ahead of a fast descent and a flat run into the finish.
“I’ve showed that I’m in great shape but I don’t really know where I am compared to the others. It will be clearer in the high mountains,” said Jungels, who leads Andre Amador (Movistar) by 24 seconds and GC favourites Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) by 1:07 and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) by 1:09 going into the business end of the race.
Felix Lowe - @saddleblaze