This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Lars Ytting Bak (Lotto Belisol) attacked out of a breakaway group which made it to the end of the twelfth stage of the Giro d'Italia and time trialed his way to the stage win. Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat) beat out Andrey Amador (Movistar) for second place 11 seconds behind the Dane.
Casar had hopes of taking over the maglia rosa, after having “virtually” worn it most of the day, but he fell 26 seconds short of taking the pink jersey from Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who retained the overall lead. Casar, however, has moved up to third overall on general classification.
The race-winning escape group formed 50km into the stage, but their lead hit the critical point approximately 50km later as Casar, the highest-placed rider on the attack at 4:01 off the lead, became the virtual maglia rosa on the road. Katusha was either unable or unwilling to do the lead work and protect Rodriguez's pink jersey. It was Liquigas-Cannondale, however, who ultimately took responsibility in the peloton and brought down the gap to the break. Still, it was nip and tuck until the end regarding a potential change in leadership at the Giro.
Bak had hoped to win one of the earlier stages in his native Denmark, but was happy enough with this win. It was the highpoint of a difficult spring, as he had injured his hand in a crash at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in March and had to sit out a month.
A successful escape
At 157km, Thursday's stage was significantly shorter than the previous one – about 100km shorter. The weather was equally nice, though, for the next rolling “middle mountain” stage which featured four ranked climbs.
It took about 50 km for the day's break group to get established which included Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol), Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat), Ivan Santaromita (BMC), Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
Golas used his presence in the lead group to grab mountain points. After the day's second climb, the category three Valico Guaitarola, he was tied for the lead of the classification. That mountain also saw sprinter Mark Cavendish (Sky) fall back from the field.
As the finish line grew nearer, the gap grew larger. With about 50km to go, and a gap of 5:30 to the peloton, there was much discussion by Katusha, apparently trying to decide whether to defend the leader's jersey – which had by then “virtually” passed on to Casar – or to let it go and ride themselves of the burden of defending the jersey.
At the 40km marker the gap had skyrocketed to 6:30, but with two more climbs to go before the finish it was still unclear how things would play out. Rodriguez and Katusha were apparently unable to find allies to help them catch the group, and the gap continued to grow.
The gap topped out at seven minutes and started slowly slipping down again around the day's intermediate sprint, which came on the climb up the category two Valico La Mola.
With 35km to go, Liquigas-Cannondale got fed up with the situation and moved into the lead of the peloton, picking up the speed and pulling down the gap.
That looked to have done the trick. Casar and the lead group struggled up the climb, with their advantage decreasing practically every meter.
Golas jumped to take the points at the top and assure himself of the mountains jersey at the end of the day. He then kept on going, zipping his way down the descent.
Liquigas was able to drive the gap down to 4:10 but it climbed back up as the team apparently had decided to limit the damage rather than try to make up all the lost time. The gap crept back up over five minutes.
Meanwhile, Golas was going all out, too much so perhaps, as he only narrowly missed a few curbs and came close to running off the course a few times on the technical descent. His lead extended to approximately 25 seconds, but his fellow breakaway companions were unwilling to let him solo in for a win and gave furious chase.
Golas had hoped to at least make it to the day's final KOM in the lead, but was caught 2km before the top.
Casar saw his chance to take over the leader's jersey slipping away as the gap shrank again, and led the group up the rest of the climb. Amador jumped away, with Casar and Santaromita in pursuit. They caught and passed the Costa Rican, with Casar taking the mountain points ahead of Santaromita and Amador. The three then took off down the mountain, as the gap dropped to under four minutes just before the 10km marker, giving the maglia rosa back to Rodriguez.
The descent was on a narrow but well-paved road. Bakelants, Txurruka, and Bak moved up to join the three leaders, as Liquigas-Cannondale flew down the climb. The pink jersey had inserted himself into their ranks, taking the descent as fourth wheel.
With 5.8km to go, Amador attacked but the other five went right after him. Jackson Rodriguez, who had been dropped, caught up again, and as the group hit the flat run-in to the finish in Sestri Levante they looked to have run out of steam.
As the gap hit four minutes again, Casar and Santaromita both saw their chance for the leader's jersey and the six-man group came to life again. Bak attacked with just over 1.5km to go, and the others failed to react in time, a fatal error on their part. The Danish time trial specialist quickly pulled away and the rest never had a chance.
Bak sailed across the line for the win with a comfortable margin, which provided ample time to celebrate on the finishing straight. Casar narrowly outsprinted Amador for second on the stage 11 seconds later.
Then the waiting began, as to when the field would cross the line. The gap had dropped while the lead group fought it out, and Rodriguez crossed the line in the field 3:34 after Bak, close enough to remain in the Giro's lead for another day.