Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Henao remained firmly in the GC fight as a breakaway prospered on stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia.
A 155-kilometre jaunt in the medium mountains always had the potential to play into the hands of a breakaway and so it proved with nine riders escaping to contest the stage victory in Sestri Levante.
Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol) hung in over the day’s tough climbs before putting the power down in the flat run-in to win by a comfortable margin of 11 seconds over Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat), who in-turn elevated himself up to third in the standings.
The peloton arrived 3:34 later led by Juan Antonio Flecha who showed a strong turn of pace to secure the final place in the top 10.
Also in the bunch and well-positioned over the final third category climb to Villa Tasani were Urán and Henao to maintain their time gaps of 1:10 and 1:27 respectively to race leader Joaquim Rodriguez.
The Spaniard held on to his 17-second advantage out front in spite of the fact he and his Katusha team seemed willing to hand over the race lead and the burden of controlling the peloton to a rival team.
Mark Cavendish began the stage in the red points jersey after regaining it on Wednesday and was able to step onto the podium at the finish after keeping hold of the garment, riding towards the front on the descent of the Valico Guaitarola during the stage to keep out of trouble.
With a breakaway always looking a good bet to succeed it was nearly 50km before any meaningful escape was able to stick, seven riders finding the magic formula to push clear after what had been a tough and fast start to the day.
The group extended their advantage and were bolstered by a further two riders as the climbs arrived, yet a nervous peloton looked unwilling to give them enough of an advantage to prosper.
Katusha set the tempo on the third category Valico Guaitarola but from that point onwards the pace was knocked off allowing Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) the chance to move to the front of the bunch on the descent to stay out of trouble.
Shortly afterwards the gap spun back out to over seven minutes, brinksmanship from Katusha forcing rivals Liquigas-Cannondale to take up the running and immediately force the gap back down.
Casar looked keen to push on in the break with the knowledge that he was in a prime position to move into the race lead, yet it was Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) who not only did enough out on the road to move into the blue mountain’s jersey, but attacked the break over the Valico La Mola.
The Pole had 5:00 on the peloton at the foot of the climb but was reeled in by the remainder of the break with 13km to go, each escapee taking it in turns to attack on the run for home where Bak proved strongest.
After the stage Sports Director Nicolas Portal summed up a day which saw a temporary halt in the fight for the GC.
He said: "The stage worked out well from our perspective with a breakaway going clear. Two riders out front were only around four minutes off the race lead so the GC teams took control during the day. In the end the break fought it out to take the win.
"It was important today for Rigoberto and Sergio not to lose time which we achieved and Mark also made it through the day fine in the red jersey ahead of tomorrow.
"Friday’s has the chance of a bunch sprint so we will look to put Mark in the best possible position and try to get that third stage."