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Memories from… Stelvio Pass, 2012: De Gendt and a feat worth the final podium


Mortirolo and Passo dello Stelvio in the second to last stage. This might well be one of the reasons why the 2012 Giro d’Italia turned out to be one of the most tactical in recent years. Everyone feared that last, terrible, alpine stage, which could have turned the race upside down. It didn’t, but it gave young Thomas De Gendt the opportunity to achieve, by his own admission, one of the finest feats of his career.

In that Giro, the Belgian – until then known as an interesting stage hunter (he had already won a stage in the Tour of Switzerland and two in Paris-Nice) – had tried for the first time in his career to fight for GC a three-week stage race. For much of the Corsa Rosa he had hovered between eighth and tenth place, showing good climbing skills but not enough to compete for a top five. But courage can indeed take you places your legs can’t.

As mentioned, this was a cautious Giro, with the big favourites living through three weeks without ever really hurting each other. In the end, fighting for pink were the explosive Joaquim Rodriguez and the surprising Canadian Ryder Hesjedal who, the day before on the Alpe di Pampeago, had pulled away from all the favourites and come dangerously close to Purito’s Rosa. De Gendt was eighth, 5’40’’ from first place, but taking advantage of the inability of the two top teams to keep the race closed, he wittily attacked on the Mortirolo with more than 60 km to go, along with Vacansoleil team-mate Matteo Carrara, catching the top riders by surprise.

Blocked by tacticism, the Maglia Rosa group failed to react and De Gendt, halfway up the final climb of the Stelvio, was 4’’ from Rodriguez’s virtual lead. After dropping Mikel Nieve and Damiano Cunego, the Belgian sprinted towards a solo triumph, with the other GC men eventually coming in at around 3’30’’ from De Gendt. And after climbing up to 4th place in the general classification, the Belgian completed his masterpiece the following day in the final time trial in Milan, finishing 5th and ousting the late Michele Scarponi from the final podium. The final Maglia Rosa, however, went to Hesjedal.

“I wanted to prove that I can be a rider suitable for Grand Tours,” De Gendt said after his exploit on the Stelvio. Unfortunately, that would remain his only major result in the general classification of a three-week race. De Gendt spent the rest of his career as one of the most highly regarded stage hunters in the peloton, with successes in all three Grand Tours.


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