'Fighter' Alaphilippe back winning in Giro 12th stage, Pogacar holds lead

Team Soudal-Quick Step's French rider Julian Alaphilippe celebrates his 12th stage win the the Giro d'Italia (Luca Bettini)
Team Soudal-Quick Step's French rider Julian Alaphilippe celebrates his 12th stage win the the Giro d'Italia (Luca Bettini)

Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe got back winning after an injury-plagued two years with a commanding victory in the 12th stage of the Giro d'Italia on Thursday.

The 31-year-old former double world champion crossed the line alone after a 126km breakaway, as Slovenian Tadej Pogacar kept the race leader's pink jersey.

Alaphilippe shook off Italian breakaway companion Mirco Maestri on the last climb of the day after the 193km run north to Fano, along the Adriatic Coast.

"That feels good!" said Alaphilippe, who is competing in his first Giro, and completed the set of stage wins on the three Grand Tours -- France, Italy and Spain.

"It's a victory that does a lot of good, an important victory for me," continued the Soudal-Quick Step rider whose last win was a stage in the Criterium du Dauphine in June last year.

"I thank all my team who controlled the start of the stage very well. I told them that it was a stage that I had ticked off. It was a dream to win in the Giro. Glad to have done it."

After a first attack, 138km from the line, Alaphilippe and Maestri, from the Polti-Kometa team, took off together.

The pair worked perfectly to keep several groups of pursuers at bay in a hilly stage ideal for breakaways.

- 'A fighter' -

Alaphilippe finally left behind his companion 11.5km from the line in the last sharp climb and then resisted Ecuadorian Jhonatan Narvaez and the Belgian Quinten Hermans, who finished half a minute off the pace.

"It's beautiful because there is a way and I waited for it," said Alaphilippe, who finished second in the sixth stage a week ago.

"I think I deserved it because I really went for it. I really want to savour the moment because I've come a long way."

For Alaphilippe his 42nd career victory erased two particularly difficult years since his serious fall in Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April 2022, which was followed by falls, injuries and the criticism of Soudal-Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere.

His return to form comes in the country where he achieved some of his greatest successes, the Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche in 2019 as well as the World Championships in Imola in 2020.

Pogacar, a two-time Tour de France champion, held the race lead ahead of Daniel Martinez and Geraint Thomas as the favourites arrived over five minutes after the winner.

"It's an impressive victory. He showed that he remains one of the best riders in the world. This is the Alaphilippe that everyone wants to see," said Pogacar.

"Everyone is very happy for him. He did something incredible," added Alaphilippe's sporting director Geert Van Bondt.

"He's a fighter, the last two years haven't been easy for him but he stuck with it and kept working. He was rewarded today."