Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) took advantage of the overall contender?s decision to take it easy before the stage to the summit of Monte Zoncolan, winning the hilly 189km stage to Lienz in Austria on Tuesday.
Garzelli attacked hard on the first of three short climbs near the finish. He caught and passed other attackers and then time trialed to the finish. Five riders chased him round the 17-km flat finishing circuit but he held them off and finished 1-01 ahead of France?s Laurent Mangel (Ag2r) and Ricardo Serrano (Tinkoff). Other riders finished two minutes behind, with race leader Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) and the rest of the bunch, crossing the line 8-10 behind.
Britain?s Steve Cummings (Discovery Channel) was in one of the groups that attacked on the climbs. Team mate Jose Luis Rubiera made it into the chasing group and finished fourth on the stage.
Garzelli won the Giro d?Italia in 2000 but focused on stage victories this year after losing time on the first big mountain stage to Briancon.
?This is one of the best wins of my career,? Garzelli said.
?I didn?t think I?d stay clear because there was a head wind in the final kilometres but I gave it everything and made it. I didn?t know how close the chasers were and only knew I?d won at five hundred metres from the finish.?
?I wasn?t strong enough to compete for overall success and so I changed my tactics. I won in Bergamo on Saturday. I knew I didn?t have anything to lose and rode an aggressive stage today because I recovered well during the rest day.?
ZONCOLAN LOOMS ON HORIZON
The overall classification remained unchanged with Eddy Mazzoleni (Astana) second at 1-51 and Andy Schleck (CSC) third at 2-56. All the overall contenders took it easy during the stage.
The bunch rode together on the early climb of the Campolongo, stopped for ten minutes to put on dry clothing and then rode tempo all the way to Lienz as they focused and worried about Tuesday?s steep climb to the summit of Monte Zoncolan.
The resurfaced track is only ten kilometres long but climbs 1203 metres at an average gradient of 11.9%. The middle section of the climb snakes up at more than 14% with one corner at a terrible 20%.
Di Luca agreed that the ten-kilometre climb to the summit of Monte Zoncolan is the hardest climb ever used for a professional cycling race. He also admitted it could decide the final winner of the Giro.
?It?s last key stage of the race and the climb to the finish is the hardest and steepest of the whole Giro. It could decide the Giro because everyone will be at their limit all the way up. It won?t be about tactics but about having the legs to make it to the top.?
?I consider myself the favourite but I won?t hold back if I feel good. Mazzoleni is my closest overall rival and if I can, I?ll try and gain time on him so that I?ve got a comfortable lead before Saturday?s time trial to Verona. If Simoni and the other climbers go for the stage win I?ll try and go with them.?
Di Luca has ridden the Angliru climb in the Vuelta but said the Zoncolan is even harder.
?When I saw how steep it is a few weeks ago I thought it was impossible to ride up it,? he said.
?The middle five kilometres are terrible and never seem to end. I?ll use a special compact chainset on my bike with a lowest gear of 34×29. I used a higher gear when I ride it training but it?s going to be even harder in the race.?
GIRO D’ITALIA: STAGE 16 RESULTS
1 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone 189km in 5.34.07
2 Laurent Mangel (Fra) Ag2R at 1-01
3 Ricardo Serrano (Esp) Tinkoff Credit Systems at st
4 José Luis Rubiera (Esp) Discovery Channel at st
5 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Credit Agricole at st
6 Pablo Lastras (Esp) Caisse D?Epargne
7 Salvatore Commesso (Ita) Tinkoff Credit Systems at 2-29
8 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Quick Step Innergetic at st
9 Assan Bazayev (Kaz) Astana at st
10 Lorenzo Bernucci (Ita) T-Mobile at st
63 Charles Wegelius (GBr) Liquigas at 8-10
103 Steven Cummings (GBr) Discovery Channel at 8-10
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 16
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 73-43-12
2 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Astana 1-51
3 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 2-56
4 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval ? Prodir 3-19
5 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre ? Fondital 3-23
6 Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval ? Prodir 3-39
7 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 6-05
8 Emanuele Sella (Ita) Ceramica Panaria ? Navigare 7-02
9 Evgeni Petrov (Rus) Tinkoff Credit System 7-29
10 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre ? Fondital 9-29
36 Charles Wegelius (GBr) Liquigas at 53-02
112 Steve Cummings (GBr) Discovery Channnel at 2-12-50