The day started with confusion. Riders and team staff milled around, brows furrowed, baffled. The route profile for stage twelve causing consternation.
“It’s a mistake,” claimed one rider, “some kind of misprint.”
“The first bit looks right, but then it goes weird,” said another.
“No, wait…” said a particularly tiny cyclist, squinting hard to recall a faded and long forgotten memory, “it’s a…oh, what did we used to call them…?”
A mountain. Slap bang in the middle of a bike race. Hard to believe, in this Giro of flat, gentle terrain, but there it is. Truth is we’ll be watching little else for the rest of the race; this is just an appetiser.
A smile began to spread across the face of the particularly tiny cyclist; Rafa Majka, of Bora-Hansgrohe. His teammate Cesare Benedetti wasn’t so sure.
“I’m not so sure,” he said, “are you telling me we ride over this?”
“Trust me,” replied Rafa, “it’s fun!”Embed from Getty Images
The ascent to Montoso was a category one climb. Big, but not huge. Tough, but not brutal. A challenge, albeit one set against a pretty, sun-dappled, tree-lined canvas. So preoccupied were the riders with this surprising bit of uphill that they managed, slightly away with the fairies perhaps, to allow a break of twenty-five riders a lead of fifteen minutes.
No serious challengers to the likes of Roglic, Nibali and Yates in there, but it became apparent we would have a new race leader from that group.
As the break hit the climb they quickly whittled themselves down to only the most lightweight and lithe; Gianluca Brambilla and Eros Capecchi looking particularly happy with this mountainous terrain.
When the main field finally reached the climb of Montoso it was time to find out whose legs, in riding the preceding several hundred kilometres of flat roads, had inadvertently turned their climbing muscles into blancmange.
Chief victims, it quickly became apparent, were the entirety of Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo Visma team. The Slovenian looked strong but as the slopes headed skywards his companions melted away like a gelato in the hands of a dawdling toddler.
Was that the tiny bit of encouragement his rivals needed?
As for the other contenders Nibali looked perky, Yates looked unruffled and surrounded by teammates in a show of strength, while Landa and Lopez formed an alliance, in their joint quest to claw back time, and headed up the road.
In summary: this was very much the early skirmishes. Nothing definitive happening, but the odd clue here and there.
The break, meanwhile, continued their merry way.Embed from Getty Images
The climb was followed by a descent, naturally, before a valley traverse into the town of Pinerolo and a brute of a five-hundred metre narrow cobbled climb which wove it’s way between baying crowds of excited Italians.
A classic, theatrical Giro set-piece. Their man Brambilla was on the front. Compatriot Capecchi followed. An Italian winner was on the cards.
Over the top and towards the finish Irishman Eddie Dunbar joined them, and we had three. Capecchi led around the final corner, and Brambilla launched, mentally preparing his celebration, only to be mugged…ambushed…pickpocketed by the aforementioned mountain-sceptic Cesare Benedetti.
From the dribs and drabs of the break he’d chased his way back, caught the three, passed them, and whipped the winners rug out from under his countryman.
Cool. Clinical. Like a killer.
Which, considering he’d all but forgotten what a mountain was and was yet to win a bike race in his decade-long pro cycling career, was absolutely remarkable.
Perhaps the recent Cycling Podcast episode featuring Benedetti, cast in the role of consummate teammate, road captain, break reeler-inner, and all-round good egg, had spurred him on.
The pink jersey of race leader fell to Jan Polanc, another remnant of that breakaway, thus ending Valerio Conti’s career defining spell in possession. Tomorrow, stage thirteen, we start the real mountains.