Breaking a winless drought that stretched back to last October, Gilbert claimed a rainy, gritty sprint in the Giro d’Italia’s stage 12 in Vicenza.
The 190-kilometer stage’s finale was perfect for the BMC star who thrives on steep climbs, like the 11-percent gradient that kicked up in the last kilometer on Thursday.
“It was my last chance to win a stage at this Giro,” Gilbert said. “The team did a great job for me today. The final was very difficult, and with so much water, it was very dangerous. I am very happy to win today.”
Gilbert wasn’t the only rider who took advantage of the nasty final kicker. Race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) sprinted to second place, ahead of Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida). With that effort, Contador snatched a few bonus seconds, but he also gapped GC rivals.
“I am content to gain a bit more time and keep the pink jersey,” Contador said. “I saw Aru struggling a bit, and I was following the wheel of Astana, but my wheels were slipping on the wet road on the final climb, and I couldn’t quite open up my sprint like I would have preferred.”
Fabio Aru (Astana) slipped to 17 seconds behind Contador in the overall. Sky’s Richie Porte, and Etixx-Quick-Step’s Rigoberto Uran also lost time.
“I was a little off on the finale, because there wasn’t enough time to eat, but that’s my fault,” said Aru. “We still have the rest of the Giro ahead, I am doing OK. I paid today for a bit low sugar today, but it wasn’t a crisis.”
Coming into the final kilometer, it looked like it might be another day for Astana. Tanel Kangert dropped Franco Pellizotti (Androni-Sidermec) and was riding alone, with the finish line in sight.
Yet it was not to be Kangert’s day to shine as the rain poured down on the finish. Gilbert’s team drove a fierce chase, and the winner launched his impressive sprint with about 250 meters left, quickly gapping the field, overhauling the leader, and riding to his second-career Giro stage win.
The stage started out with a long, flat stretch of road, where five riders got away: Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), Patrick Gretsch (Ag2r La Mondiale), Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF), Davide Appollonio (Androni-Sidermec), and Nick van der Lijke (LottoNL-Jumbo).
The peloton seemed anxious to reach the final three categorized climbs and was stingy about the break’s advantage.
With 57 kilometers to go, the break was caught and the peloton rushed into the day’s first climb, the category 4 ascent of Castelnuovo, where Androni-Sidermec’s Gianfranco Zilioli attacked.
Not wanting to be left out, Louis Vervaeke (Lotto-Soudal) took a flyer on the climb. Several others animated, but they were mostly vying for mountain classification points, and Vervaeke was the only breakaway to keep riding away after the climb.
Vervaeke’s time off the front ended with 30km to go, at the base of the penultimate categorized climb.
A treacherous, rain-slicked descent off the Crosara climb led to many crashes in the peloton, notably Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), who had been pegged as a potential winner today.
Once the field reached flat road, it was Pellizotti’s turn to try a solo attack. On the Perarolo climb, the lone leader was about 24 seconds ahead.
Kangert rode off the front on another wet and dangerous descent and found himself six seconds behind Pellizotti.
The stage hunters began to get anxious in the peloton. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Ion Izagirre (Movistar) attacked with six kilometers to go. Although their move didn’t stick, Kangert soon joined forces with Pellizotti at the front.
As they rode beneath the red kite, the lead duo kept their advantage, 21 seconds ahead. Pellizotti, struggling to hold the Astana rider’s wheel, was dropped in the closing meters.
BMC drove the chase with purpose as Kangert began to fade.
Gilbert made his move and rode Tiralongo off his wheel. He soon caught the leader with 250 meters left, and no one could follow as Gilbert rode alone to victory.
Contador sprinted to second, looking strong on the steep final pitch.
“This finale is my specialty,” Gilbert continued. “It may look easy, but it [is] never easy. The last 800m was little Cauberg; I came to see it with Fabio Baldato after Milano-Sanremo, so I knew the course very well. It gave me a lot of confidence.
“My morale was low yesterday because as a team we were not able to chase down that breakaway. Today, everyone lifted their spirits, and did great work. I am glad I could finish it off. The team has stayed by me all season despite a rough start to the season. I never gave up hope to get the win.”
Friday, the 13th stage may offer a breather for the GC riders ahead of Saturday’s time trial, as it will be a flat, 147km ride from Montecchio Maggiore to Lido di Jesolo.