1. Thomas De Gendt: One for the history books
Old-school, long-distance attacks are still possible in today’s cycling and Thomas De Gendt proved it with a stunning move in the penultimate stage of a nail-biting 2012 Giro d’Italia.
The setting could not have been more dramatic in what was the Giro’s queen stage over the Mortirolo and up the highest climb of the 2012 edition atop the Stelvio, the cima Coppi at 2,758 meters.
The Belgian was quietly holding steady in the top 10 on GC without drawing too much attention. De Gendt was reserving his power for one audacious attack that nearly blew the lid off the race.
De Gendt surged clear of the GC riders on the Mortirolo and the reeled in the day’s break. He found good company with the likes of Damiano Cunego, Mikel Nieve, Andrey Amador and Tanel Kangert. One-by-one, De Gendt dropped his companions up the dreaded Passo dello Stelvio. With 13km to go, Nieve was the last to throw in the towel, and De Gendt powered home the stage win.
The GC leaders began to chip away at that inside 10km, but by then it was too late. De Gendt nearly rode away with the pink jersey as Hesjedal’s rivals were happy to let Garmin-Sharp do the heavy work to limit the losses and then counter-attack near the summit.
Hesjedal’s teammates Christian Vande Velde and Peter Stetina saved the day for the Canadian.
De Gendt called the Stelvio his favorite training climb, riding up the twisting switchbacks “20 to 30 times” over the past few years as he expanded his climbing skills.
The stage win vaulted him from eighth, at 5:40 back, to fourth, setting him up to pass Michele Scarponi in the final TT to bounce onto the podium, becoming the first Belgian to podium in a grand tour since Johan Bruyneel was third in the 1995 Vuelta a España.
For 2013, De Gendt will turn his attention to the Tour de France. A climber-friendly course, with time trials fitting his skillset, could be the backdrop for more raids a la De Gendt.