Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) won stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana on Thursday.
Gilbert edged Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) in a close finish. Placing third was Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida) in the 164-kilometer stage from Maella to Tarragona.
Vincenzo Nibali now leads Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) by 31 seconds in the GC, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is 46 seconds behind in third. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) is fourth, also at 46 seconds.
The victory was the first one for the 2012 road world champion this season, and with the 2013 worlds coming up in a few weeks, Gilbert almost went winless during his time in the rainbow jersey.
With around 500 meters remaining, Boasson Hagen started his final sprint and opened up a small gap on Gilbert, who was in overdrive trying to stay on his wheel. It appeared that Boasson Hagen had the victory in hand until the final 100 meters or so, when Gilbert swung out of his slipstream and blazed past.
Boasson Hagen was unable to keep pace and finished almost half a bike length behind.
“I’m very happy to win this first victory of the season here,” Gilbert said afterward. “I want to thank everybody that trusted me the whole season — my teammates, family, and friends.
“A lot of roundabouts, curves, bad roads … cobblestones,” added Gilbert, referring to the last 5km of the route. He stayed near the front of the peloton in the final 20km to avoid getting caught behind.
A three-man breakaway was caught with about 18km left in the stage, and the peloton rode together for another 4km before Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) — whose epic solo performance in stage 6 nearly ended in victory — took off.
Martin, who perhaps was trying to make up for losing Wednesday’s time trial, made a hard effort to ride to the stage win. But his time out front was short-lived, as the charging peloton swallowed him up just before the 10km banner.
From that point, the pack rode at a brisk pace, with the stage-hunters and GC contenders trying to stay ahead of any trouble that might occur.
Orica-GreenEdge eventually found itself at the front of the peloton with 1,500 meters left, trying to lead out Michael Matthews to a victory. Shortly after that, Boasson Hagen broke from the field and began his charge to the finish line.
The race continues Friday with the 169km stage 13 from Valls to Castelldefels.