Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) won Sunday's tough 15th stage of the 2010 Giro d'Italia, finishing atop the legendary Monte Zoncolan and moving himself up into the top three of the overall classification.
Basso won the stage after he, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Michele Scarponi (Androni Giocattoli) broke free from the contenders group on the stage's relentless final climb.
Despite being off the pace of Basso, Evans and Scarponi, David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) retained the race lead ahead of Richie Porte (Saxo Bank) in second at 2-35 and Basso in third at 3-33. Carlos Sastre (Cervelo) and Evans also benefitted form their performances, and move up to fourth and fifth respectively.
Prior to reaching Monte Zoncolan, Liquigas drove the pace hard at the front of the bunch for Basso and team-mate Vincenzo Nibali. Once delivered on the mountain - widely considered to be one of the toughest ascents in any of the grand tours - the favourites massed at the front readying themselves for a showdown.
"You all saw my work, my teammates pulled 150km maybe more," said Basso after the stage. "Zanatta gave out perfect instructions and they carried them out 100 per cent."
Scarponi was the first to step up the pace and created a gap accompanied by Evans and Basso. Race leader Arroyo was out-gunned by the move and slipped backwards. Also out of the running for the stage win were former race leader Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Sastre and Nibali.
Scarponi paid for his initiative and was left by Basso, closely followed by Evans. The pair picked their way through the crowds lining the mountain and passing the remnants of an earlier escape group.
Of the two, Basso looked more at ease as Evans shoulders rocked with his trademark low climbing style. Behind, Scarponi doggedly tried to minimise the gap between himself and the two leaders.
Basso dropped Evans within the final 4km to the summit, using the punishingly steep final section to quickly open up a significant gap on the Australian. By the 2km-to-go marker, the gap had increased to 43 seconds.
Basso, grimacing but composed, pressed ahead taking the stage win and asserting his position as one of the major favourites for the overall.
Asked whether he would dedicate his win to anyone, Basso commented: "There are many people and it is not right to thank one person. The people that believed in me in these two years, always knowing that the results would come.
"It's a great day. A few of you know me well as a person, not as a cyclist. Maybe you can understand this day for me."
It's Basso's first Giro stage win since returning from a two-year suspension for his involvement with the Operacion Puerto doping scandal. When asked whether this was a victory for clean cycling, Basso replied: "I have done my work since I returned from cycling, it is all there online, anyone can evaluate it with their own eyes. This is our team's plan, and also mine. You have to judge for myself."
"If you want look at the haematocrit levels, all you have to do is go to my website and look."
After finishing 11th on the stage, David Arroyo vowed to continue fighting for the right to wear the pink leader's jersey. "I already knew Zoncolan from 2007, I had some bad memories from it then. But this time it went better," said the Spaniard. "The maglia rosa gives you extra legs."
"Ivan and his team is so strong, I am not feeling so confident to keep the jersey. We will keep fighting to the end."
Ireland's Daniel Martin (Garmin-Transitions) finished the stage in a strong ninth position - expect to see more of Martin in the coming final week. Charly Wegelius (Omega Pharma-Lotto) came in 15th, at 4-26.
Britain's Bradley Wiggins didn't repeat his active participation in the previous stage and came in 104th, 25 minutes and 32 seconds behind Basso.
Double stage winner Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) did not start the stage. Farrar had been leading the red jersey sprints classification until he finished out of the time cut on stage 11 and had 25 points deducted. Farrar's withdrawl was pre-planned, and the American will now concentrate on his preparations for the Tour de France. Australian fastman Robbie McEwen was another high-profile DNS.
After 12 days of continuous racing the riders can now enjoy a rest day on Monday before the race resumes with the decisive 12.9km mountain time trial to Plan de Corones.
Giro d'Italia 2010, stage 15: Mestre - Monte Zoncolan, 222km
1. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 1-19
3. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli at 1-30
4. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini at 1-58
5. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana at 2-26
6. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo at 2-44
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 3-07
8. Marco Pinotti (Ita) HTC-Columbia at 3-20
9. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Transitions at 3-31
10. John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale at 3-46
15. Charly Wegelius (GB) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 4-26
82. Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky at 22-35
96. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervelo at 24-54
104. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 25-32
106. Steve Cummings (GB) Team Sky at 25-32
Overall classification after stage 15
1. David Arroyo (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
2. Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank at 2-35
3. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 3-33
4. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo at 4-21
5. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 4-43
6. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana at 5-51
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 6-08
8. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli at 6-34
9. Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Milram at 7-12
10. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Liquigas-Doimo at 8-13
23. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 28-14
Escape group hit the Zoncolan climb
Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans
Damiano Cunego passes through the masses of fans
Daniel Martin - came in ninth
Ivan Basso goes solo for the stage win
Giro d'Italia 2010: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
2010 Giro d'Italia coverage in association with Zipvit
Thank you for reading 10 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1