Italian Giovanni Visconti soloed to victory in the 17th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday to hand his Movistar team their fourth win of the race.
Overall race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) retained the pink jersey with a 1 minute, 26 seconds lead on Australian rival Cadel Evans (BMC) intact after the 214km ride from Caravaggio to Vicenza.
Nibali won the Tour of Spain in 2010, was a runner-up on the Giro in 2011 and also finished third at last year’s Tour de France.
Despite having the chance to take a step closer to his first maglia rosa (pink jersey) on yesterday’s 18th stage, an uphill time trial over 20.6km, the Italian refused to rule out the threat of 2011 Tour de France champion Evans.
“I’ve always done well on mountain time trials,” the Italian said.
However, he said he would still remain cautious of Evans in the event if he stretched his lead over the Australian to two minutes ahead of two key stages in the high mountains.
“Two minutes would be a good lead, but I don’t want to make any predictions,” Nibali added. “Evans has always been up at the front of the race and he’s pedaling very well.”
Meanwhile, Visconti showed his tactical nous and physical prowess for the second time in less than a week after a timely attack 17km from the finish brought him his second win, following his stage 15 triumph on the legendary French Alpine climb of the Galibier.
As the sprinters, including Britain’s Mark Cavendish, began struggling to keep pace on the Crosara climb, Visconti made his move, attacking from the main peloton and catching, then overtaking, leading pair Danilo Di Luca (Vini Fantini) and Miguel Rubiano (Androni).
Rubiano tried to follow, but Visconti upped the pace after cresting the climb and he quickly went on to build a 30-second lead, which proved decisive.
“I knew Di Luca would be hard to shake off if he came with me, that’s why I gave it full gas on the descent and in the closing kilometers,” said Visconti, a three-time national champion.
Visconti survived a late scare when he entered a sharp left-hander too fast and narrowly avoided a spill in the final kilometer.
The race was marked by the huge number of roadside fans, and Visconti — who late last year served a three-month ban for working with banned sports doctor Michele Ferrari — said: “With 200m to go on that last corner I couldn’t believe how many people were there.”
“I was already starting to think about my win and about how my picture would be in the newspapers tomorrow,” he added.
Ramunas Navardauskas was next over the finish line 19 seconds later, the Lithuanian, who rides for Garmin, raising his hands in the air in the mistaken belief he had won the stage.
It is the second such occurence in the race.
On stage nine Colombian Carlos Betancur raised his arms in triumph shortly after Russian Maxim Belkov had claimed the honors.
After the 18th stage time trial, today and tomorrow’s stages are both scheduled to be held at high altitude in the Italian Dolomites, although both could be altered by race organizers due to the expectation of snow and freezing conditions.
The 96th edition of the race finishes on Sunday in Brescia.