Ryder Hesjedal is moving closer to becoming the first Canadian to win the Giro d'Italia after today's stage to Alpe di Pampeago.
"Today was the day that we were supposed to take time out of Hesjedal," Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) said at the finish. "Instead, we all lost time."
Rodriguez leads the Giro d'Italia by a precarious 17 seconds over Garmin-Barracuda's Hesjedal. With the final Milan time trial on Sunday and a better time triallist - Hesjedal - right behind, it's an insufficient advantage.
Hesjedal decided to go out and take control today instead of sitting calmly at 30 seconds back in the overall classification. His team-mates Peter Stetina and Christian Vande Velde led on to the final ascent of Pampeago. Hesjedal marked the others and then attacked.
Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) revved up the pace and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) attacked three times. Scarponi's attacks succeeded in distancing Rodriguez and Basso, but not Hesjedal. The tall, calm Canadian attacked with 2.2 kilometres to race and again at 1.5, the second time he left Scarponi.
He crossed the line second behind Roman Kreuziger (Astana), but an important 13 seconds ahead of Rodriguez. He collapsed and towelled off his face.
"Those guys, I respect them a lot, but I feel good. I am here for real," he told Cycling Weekly and a group of journalists as he stood up. Asked if he feared today more than tomorrow, the long steady climb to the Stelvio pass at 2,757 metres, he said, "I don't fear anything."
The Stelvio stage is the last mountain stage for Rodriguez, Basso and Scarponi to try to crack Hesjedal. If he stays around the same time back, they'll have a hard time keeping him from the pink jersey on Sunday when the race ends in Milan.
"We are going to look at the classification with a cool head tonight before we start making plans," sports director, Charly Wegelius told Cycling Weekly.
"We will think about the time trial on Sunday morning. At the top of Stelvio, we will draw a line and have a look to see for Sunday. Remember, [Laurent] Fignon was supposed to win the Tour in '89 and Cadel [Evans] was supposed to win in 2008. We are not counting anything before the time trial."
Giro d'Italia 2012: Latest news
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Giro d'Italia 2012: Live coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 live text coverage and schedule
Giro d'Italai 2012 stage 13 live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 stage 12 live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 stage 10 live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 stage six live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012 stage four live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2012: Stage reports
Stage 19: Kreuziger bounces back with Giro stage win
Stage 18: Guardini beats Cavendish in final Giro sprint
Stage 17: Rodriguez wins stage to consolidate lead
Stage 16: Izagirre claims Basque breakaway victory
Stage 15: Rabottini takes tough win in Giro
Stage 14: Amador wins Giro's first high mountain stage as Hesjedal reclaims lead
Stage 13: Cavendish makes it three
Stage 12: Bak attacks to win
Stage 11: Ferrari wins Giro stage on ride to redemption
Stage 10: Rodriguez wins thrilling finale to take leadStage nine: Ventoso wins in Frosinone as Goss and Cavendish fall
Stage eight: Pozzovivo takes another Giro win
Stage seven: Hesjedal moves into Giro lead
Stage six: Rubiano solos to epic Giro stage win
Stage five: Cavendish bounces back for another stage win
Stage four: Garmin-Barracuda win TTT to take lead
Stage three: Goss wins in Horsens as Cavendish and Phinney crash
Stage two: Cavendish wins in Herning
Stage one: Phinney wins time trial
Giro d'Italia 2012: Photo galleries
Stage 19 photo gallery
Stage 18 photo gallery
Stage 17 photo gallery
Stage 16 photo gallery
Stage 15 photo gallery
Stage 14 photo gallery
Stage 13 photo gallery
Stage 12 photo gallery
Stage 11 photo gallery
Stage 10 photo gallery
Stage nine photo gallery
Stage eight photo gallery
Stage seven photo gallery
Stage six photo gallery
Stage five photo gallery
Stage four photo gallery
Stage three photo gallery
Stage two photo gallery
Stage one photo gallery
Giro d'Italia 2012: Blogs
Charly Wegelius' Giro blog: Conserving energy for the final week
Charly Wegelius' Giro blog: Holding on to the lead
Charly Wegelius' Giro blog: Getting the team time trial right
Giro moto blog: Hurray for rest day
Giro moto blog: Stage 10
Giro d'Italia 2012: Teams and riders
Giro d'Italia 2012 start list
Giro d'Italia 2012: TV guide
Giro d'Italia 2012: British Eurosport TV schedule
Giro d'Italia 2012: The Big Preview
Cycling Weekly's Giro d'Italia section
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