Denz wins from Giro breakaway as Crans Montana looms
Germany's Nico Denz of the Bora Hansgrohe team won a hilly stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia on Thursday as Geraint Thomas safely defended the overall leader's pink jersey.
Denz and a clutch of cohorts covered the route from Bra to Rivoli a good eight minutes faster than the main peloton which was led over the finish line by Ineos rider Pavel Sivakov, showing his fall Wednesday had no profound effect.
"I'm over the moon," said Denz, who revealed he had long planned to win this stage that after a mass breakaway came down to a three up sprint in downtown Rivoli.
"I prepared that stage actually. I had it in my mind already before, but I also have quite a fast finish and that saved me in the end," said Denz, racing his sixth Giro d'Italia.
In the overall classification Thomas remains two seconds ahead of new race favourite Primoz Roglic, who might be expected to do far better than the Welshman in the upcoming mountains.
And lurking with intent in third place is the up-and-coming Joao Almeida of Team UAE Emirates just 22 seconds behind Thomas.
"I would be happy with a podium spot, but the climbs suit me and yes I'm here to win, let's see," said Almeida, who rides for the same outfit as Tadej Pogacar.
He will have to do so without teammate Alessandro Covi, who fell Wednesday and then suffered the impact as Ineos rider Thomas landed right on top of him, albeit offering the Welshman a soft landing. He finished the stage but is now out of the Giro.
- Sivakov and the survivors -
With the Giro losing 40 of the original 176 riders already and nine stages remaining Ineos lost 2020 Giro champion Tao Geoghegan Hart to a fall Wednesday, but their leader Thomas was delighted with how another faller was faring, Pavel Sivakov.
"It was a great sign to see (Pavel riding). He rode on the front from the bottom of the climb all the way to the finish. It must have been close to 40km. He's certainly looking alright. He's a battler and a tough guy so it's great to have him still riding well in the team," said a relieved overall race leader.
"When we had myself and (Tao) up there it gave us two good options. Obviously he's not here anymore. It's a blow to the team. We've still got a good strong unit here. We've had great morale from the start of the year and hopefully we can continue that."
On Friday, the Giro veers into Switzerland for a mountain stage that should have been the highest peak on the route but which has been shortened due to avalanche risk.
The race will, however, take on the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard for a 13.1km ascent at 7.2 precent gradient and the Croix-de-Cœur climb of 15.4km at 8.8 percent gradient.
It will likely change the overall standings and the Alpine peaks signal a new phase of the Giro and many ambitions will be broken or achieved in this mountainous final week.