Vuelta a España 2013 stage 12: Gilbert finally wins in the rainbow jersey

Hectic sprint goes the way of world champion

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World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) claimed his first victory of the season in the sprint finale of stage 12 at the Vuelta a Espana. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) jumped early and appeared to have the stage won, but the 31-year-old Belgian caught and passed the Norwegian in the closing metres.

Boasson Hagen would finish second on the day, followed by Maximilian Ariel Richeze (Lampre-Merida) in third.

"I'm very happy to take my first victory [of the season] here," said Gilbert. "It's a special day because I have family here in this area - Catalonia.

"There were a lot of roundabouts, curves and bad roads [in the finale]. That's why I made the choice to ride the last 20 kilometers in front in the first 10 positions."

One day after the Vuelta's only time trial, the general classification contenders enjoyed a quiet day of racing with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) remaining in the red leader's jersey. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) earned two bonus seconds to cut his second-place deficit to 31 seconds, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) held third at 46 seconds.

The peloton faced another warm, sunny day in the saddle at the Vuelta for today's 164km parcours between Maella and Tarragona. The break of the day wasted no time in charging up the road, jumping away soon after kilometre zero, and was comprised of Cédric Pineau (FDJ), Romain Zingle (Cofidis) and Fabricio Ferrari (Caja Rural).

As all three attackers were more than one hour in arrears of race leader Vincenzo Nibali on general classification (Zingle was highest-placed at 1:06:52), the Italian's Astana squad had no reason to keep the trio in check and their advantage soon ballooned to nearly seven minutes.

With precious few sprint stages up for grabs in this year's Vuelta the teams of the peloton's fast men came to the fore, such as Orica-GreenEdge, Argos-Shimano and Garmin-Sharp, to prevent the break from becoming a runaway. Heading into the second hour of racing the break's lead waxed and waned between 4:30 and 5:30 as the familiar cat-and-mouse dynamic settled in between chaser and chasee.

Once the day's solitary categorised climb was negotiated, the category 3 Alto del Collet at 74km to go, the peloton commenced its steady reduction of the break's lead. The gap to the trio dipped below four minutes 10km after cresting the KOM summit and continued its gradual decline.

Belkin and Lampre-Merida also chipped in riders at the head of the peloton as the sprinters eyed their likely last stage win opportunity until the Vuelta's finale in Madrid.

From 50km to 43km to go the break's gap held steady at three minutes as the peloton didn't want to make the catch too soon, but once on the wide, straight roads leading to the coastal city of Tarragona the break's hopes at success proved slim at best.

Facing a very technical finale, such that the normal 3km buffer zone was extended to the final 5km by the race officials due to the proliferation of roundabouts and road furniture, the teams of the peloton's sprinters opted to end the break's escape earlier than normal. With 18km remaining, as the peloton charged along the coastline, the break was neutralised.

The day's final intermediate sprint was situated at 15km to go and several general classification contenders battled it out for crucial bonus seconds with Ivan Basso (Cannondale) taking top honours ahead of Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).

As the peloton momentarily backed off the throttle after the intermediate sprint, reigning time trial world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) attacked and quickly gained 12 seconds. Martin nearly took stage 6 after a stage-long solo effort, but this time the powerhouse German played his hand late in a bid for stage victory. The sprinters' teams were having none of it, however, and brought back Martin prior to the 10km to go banner.

The peloton's pace ramped up heading into the finale with riders stretched out in a long, single-file formation. The general classification contenders positioned themselves near the front amidst the lead-out trains and eagerly awaited the 5km to go banner wherein they'd be in the clear regarding crashes or mechanicals. Moments after reaching that point on the course Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) had a rear flat and surely appreciated the extension of the window.

The sprinters' teams continued to keep the peloton stretched out in their wake and the riders successfully negotiated the many turns and roundabouts into the final kilometre. As the peloton powered up a slight rise and reached the final roundabout at 350 metres to go Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) attacked and quickly gapped the field through the gentle right hand bend onto the finishing straight. It looked like he'd gotten the best of the peloton's other fast finishers, but Philippe Gilbert (BMC) proceeded to close the distance to the Norwegian and sped past him in the final metres for a hard-earned victory.

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