Giro d'Italia 2018: Sam Bennett motors to second victory in the rain at Imola
Ireland’s Sam Bennett powered to a second win on the Giro d’Italia by making light work of heavy rain and hitting top gear early for a comprehensive Stage 12 victory on the Imola motor-racing circuit.
In apocalyptic conditions, lightning struck twice for Bora-Hansgrohe’s Bennett, who closed the gap on sprint rival Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) to just 22 points in a reinvigorated battle for the maglia ciclamino.
Bennett attacked so early he had the luxury of sitting up and savouring the chequered flag as Dutchman Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Italy’s Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain Merida) fought for scraps behind.
Heavy rain towards the end of the 214-kilometre stage from Osimo changed the script as the peloton unexpectedly split in crosswinds with 30km remaining – leaving Italy’s Viviani and a number of others a fierce battle to fight back on.
A double stage winner in Israel at the start of the Giro, Viviani put himself back in contention after the two groups came back together ahead of the finish circuit. But the maximum 10-percent gradient of the tricky Tremonti climb inside the final 10km blew the race apart once again and ended Viviani’s chances of a hat-trick.
Slovenia’s Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Merida) and Spaniard Carlos Betancur (Movistar) held a slender lead going over the summit and it was not until Bennett – clinically and emphatically – opened up his sprint in the final two-hundred meters that the duo was reeled in.
No one could hold the wheel of Bennett who shone the brightest on a day that the sun hardly shone at all. Britain’s Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) finished safely in the main pack to retain his 47-second lead over Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) in the general classification.
On a day where any break was essentially doomed from the outset, five riders nevertheless tried their luck in an early move that came after a few kilometres of riding.
Mirco Maestri and Manuel Senni (Bardiani-CSF), Jacopa Mosca and Eugert Zhupa (Wilier Triestina) and the indefatigable Marco Frapporti (Androni-Giocattoli) were the plucky animators as the Italian wildcard teams formed an alliance that resulted in a maximum four-and-a-half-minute gap over the pack.
As the race headed up the Adriatic coast between Ancona and Rimini, Frapporti – a regular fixture in breaks during the 101st edition of La Corsa Rosa – pipped the Albanian Zhupa in both intermediate sprints to extend his lead in that niche competition and keep up Androni’s 100% record in breakaways.
Behind, Viviani led the peloton through each sprint to mop up the remaining points and strengthen his grip on the maglia ciclamino – a grip that would soon be considerably weakened by Bennett.
As the showers started to fall and the peloton split in two, the breakaway’s hopes were extinguished with 22km remaining – not before Maestri and Mosca had one last throw of the dice.
By now the pack had managed to reform after the combination of rain, wind and standing water caused a huge split and around seventy riders were caught short, including GC riders Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain Merida) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) as well as the white jersey Richard Carapaz (Movistar) and pre-stage favourite Viviani.
With the pack strung out and grappling in the dark and stormy conditions, Belgian Stage 4 winner Tim Wellens attacked out of a corner ahead of the finishing circuit.
The Lotto-Fix All rider built up a maximum lead of 20 seconds as he passed through the finish area and negotiated the twists, turns and chicanes of the official home of Ferrari, where Ayrton Senna so tragically lost his life in 1994.
With the EF Education First-Drapac team of Sacha Modolo leading the chase and Viviani among those distanced, Wellens was pegged back on the first of three tiers of the Tremonti climb with just over 10km remaining.
After Bennett put in a pre-emptive – and perhaps show-boating attack – on the climb, Colombia’s Sergio Henao (Team Sky) had a pop before Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) rode clear with Mohoric and Betancur in pursuit.
Once over the summit, Mohoric, winner of Stage 10 in Gualdo Tadino, used his superior descending skills to catch the leaders and ride clear with Betancur. The gap stayed around the five-second mark – but once the main pack swung back onto the motor-racing circuit inside the final kilometre, their chances stalled.
Anticipating any attacks, Bennett got into top gear early and motored past Betancur and Mohoric on the home straight to become the second Irish rider in history to win two Giro stages in the same year – following Stephen Roche’s lead in 1987.
“It was a tough final – we still had two guys in front and I didn’t know how much energy they had left,” Bennett said.
" I didn’t want another stage taken away from me so I decided to go early. I didn’t know if I could hold it or not – I think I caught some of the guys by surprise so I played it to my advantage."
Bennett’s emphatic victory – coupled with Viviani’s capitulation – has reopened the door for the Irishman in what had seemed like a one-way battle for the maglia ciclamino.
“We knew Viviani [had been dropped] in the crosswinds but then we heard he was back. When it was lined out again, we heard he was gone again. It didn’t really matter if he was there or not – we wanted to race to win. It was a nice way to win and it gives me confidence.”
Both Bennett and Viviani will have the chance to secure a hat-trick of wins in Friday’s 180km Stage 13 which follows a similar pattern with a punchy Cat.4 climb coming with 20km remaining. On this form, Bennett will fancy his chances.