This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) continued his dominance of the sprinter-friendly stages at the Giro d'Italia as he took the 100th victory of his career in Treviso. The Manx Missile claimed the third win of his 2013 Giro campaign, while French champion Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) rounded out the top three.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) finished comfortably in the field to retain his maglia rosa while the big loser of stage 12 was Bradley Wiggins (Sky), dropped with 40km to go on the descent off the day's final KOM and conceding more than three minutes by the time he reached the finish.
The break of the day formed soon after the peloton left the start city of Longarone, and the five escapees, Fabio Felline (Androni Giocattoli), Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Bert De Backer (Argos-Shimano) plus Vacansoleil-DCM teammates Marco Marcato and Maurits Lammertink, nearly stole the show from the sprinters. With the wet roads perhaps tempering the peloton's pursuit in the stage's endgame, the catch was ultimately made just 500 metres from the finish.
"We came here wanting to win every sprint, and so far, we’ve done it convincingly, leading the peloton from start to finish," said Cavendish. "Everyone worked to bring the breakaway back. Geert Steegmans was really controlled in the final part. In these difficult conditions, it is easy to get carried away too soon, but today our timing was perfect."
In addition to making a clean, three-out-of-three sweep of the sprint stages thus far at the Giro d'Italia, Cavendish was pleased to notch his milestone 100th career victory.
"Normally, these records are not so meaningful, but this one is special," said Cavendish. "It isn’t easy to win 100 races. I’ve been looking forward to this one. It’s good to do it at the Giro, and it’s good to do it the way we did it, because my teammates rode out of their skin from the start of the stage to the finish. The guys were incredible, every single one of them, and that makes it even more special."
A miserable day at the office
The peloton faced wet, dismal conditions at the start in Longarone, with a forecast of rain for the entire stage.
The break of the day established itself nearly from kilometre zero, with four riders going out on the attack: Fabio Felline (Androni Giocattoli), stage 9 winner Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Bert De Backer (Argos-Shimano) and Maurits Lammertink (Vacansoleil-DCM).
Perhaps wishing to put on a good showing following the news yesterday that Vacansoleil would cease sponsorship of the Dutch WorldTour squad at the end of this season, one day after DCM made a similar announcement, Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM), too, jumped from the peloton in pursuit of the break hoping to join his teammate Lammertink up the road.
The riders faced a short climb to the day's first intermediate sprint at Pieve d'Alpago (11km), with Belkov leading the break across, followed by Marcato at 16 seconds and the peloton at 1:30. The Vacansoleil-DCM Italian, in his first Giro d'Italia, made contact on the descent several kilometres later and the now five-man break set to work to perhaps spoil the anticipated field sprint finale in Treviso.
The break was given a rude reminder of racing on slick Italian tarmac, however, as Belkov lost traction and fell while leading the escape on a descent 34km into the stage and Marcato, Felline and Lammertink all crashed, too, in his wake. Only De Backer managed to stay upright, and the 29-year-old Belgian slowed to allow his four fallen companions to pick themselves up and regain contact.
While none of the riders in the break were general classification threats, with Felline best-placed overall in 61st at 54:22, nonetheless the escapees weren't given much freedom on this short, 134km route from Longarone to Treviso as today's parcours was one of the few stages suited to the peloton's sprinters.
Maglia rosa wearer Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana team were largely given a pass at the head of the peloton for the duration of the stage as the teams of the sprinters, particularly Cannondale and Omega Pharma-QuickStep, had their workhorses setting tempo to keep the break on a tight leash, keeping their advantage pegged at a manageable three minutes.
Under unremitting rain, vacillating between steady and heavy, the peloton began its chase of the break in earnest once the day's second and final KOM was negotiated, the category 4 Montello-S.M.d.Vittoria at 41km to go. The escape's advantage was reduced to two minutes at 20.5km remaining as the pace in the peloton ramped up, with one of the casualties Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who was dropped on the descent off the Montello-S.M.d.Vittoria KOM and trailed the maglia rosa group by one minute.
The break's lead was halved from two minutes to one minute 13km from the finish, and when they passed through the finish line to begin a 7.5km circuit in Treviso, their advantage stood at a tenuous 27 seconds. The large Wiggins group, meanwhile, passed through more than three minutes in arrears.
The slick conditions gave the break hope, however, as the five riders continued to share the load, but their effort fell just short as they were swept up inside 500m to go, setting the stage for a battle royale amongst the peloton's sprinters.