RIVOLI, Italy — Nico Denz won Stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia for his first victory in a Grand Tour, while Geraint Thomas kept hold of the pink jersey as the race prepares to head into the mountains.
Denz, who rides for Bora-Hansgrohe, beat Toms Skujiņš and Sebastian Berwick at the end of the 115-mile hill leg from Bra to Rivoli in the Piedmont region.
The first stage win for Denz in his sixth Giro prompted the German to yell in joy after crossing the line and put his hands on his head as his eyes appeared to tear up.
All three riders were in a large breakaway that had to battle to escape at the beginning of the day.
The trio pulled away from its fellow escapees and had an advantage of more than eight minutes on the general classification group on the toughest part of the stage, a second-category climb 20 miles from the finish.
“The breakaway was definitely hard to get in, and then the hardest moment for me was the last climb, I was suffering so much and I barely made it over the top,” Denz said. “But getting there was also not so easy.
“When I made it over the last climb … I used the downhill to recover. And on the bottom, I started to think, ‘yeah, I can make this actually.’ And then they didn’t attack me, so I just threw everything in and yeah, from there on I thought, ‘I can maybe do this.’”
The rest of the breakaway rolled across the line two minutes, 20 seconds behind, around six minutes ahead of the GC contenders.
Thomas remained two seconds ahead of Primož Roglič and 22 ahead of João Almeida.
There was a minute of silence before the start to honor those affected by the flooding in Emilia-Romagna.
It was a quieter day in the peloton after an eventful few days which saw pre-race favorite Remco Evenepeol withdraw after testing positive for the coronavirus and Tao Geoghegan Hart leave the race on a stretcher after a crash.
Geoghegan Hart had been third in the overall standings, five seconds behind his Ineos Grenadiers teammate Thomas.
“It definitely changes how we race,” Thomas said. “When we had myself and him up there, that gave us two good options. Obviously, he’s not here anymore, so it’s a massive blow to the team. And he was going really well.
“But we’ve still got a good, strong unit here and we’ve had great morale from the start here, and hopefully we can just continue that.”
The majority of the riders would have been saving their legs ahead of the mighty mountains.
Stage 13 has three top-category climbs on the 124-mile route from Borgofranco d’Ivrea to the summit finish at Crans-Montana. It will be an exceptionally tough day even though the route has been altered and the race will not go over the top of the Passo del Gran San Bernardo because of snowfall and a risk of avalanches, but through a tunnel.
The stage will be expected to shake up the overall standings. And a good performance from Thomas could set him up to become the oldest Giro winner when the race ends in Roma on May 28, three days after the British cyclist turns 37.
Fiorenzo Magni was 34 when he won the Giro in 1955.
“We’ve still got five mountain top finishes to do, we haven’t even raced up one yet,” Thomas said. “So we’re not counting our chickens, we’re just taking every day as it comes and a big big day tomorrow.”