Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) claimed his second Giro d'Italia stage win on Saturday with a strong solo ride on the day's two tough climbs, Colle delle Finestre and Sestriere.
Behind Kiryienka a battle for vital seconds and top ten places was unfolding. Jose Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) came home in second place at 4-43 with Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) in third a few seconds later.
Rodriguez's attack moved him up to fifth overall, with the day's big time loses going to Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC) and Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) who fell to ninth and 10th respectively.
Other riders who moved up in the GC included Rujano, moving up to sixth from 10th, and Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC), now in eighth overall.
Race leader Contador finished safely in eighth on the stage, the job of marking his rivals done. Only the final time trial now stands in the way of the Spaniard inevitably taking his second overall win at the Giro d'Italia.
Final mountains play their part
An early 13-man escape group containing Kiryienka worked up a 10-plus minute margin over the bunch by the stage's half-way point. However, the group splintered as it reached the ascent of Colle delle Finestre. Kiryienka forged ahead solo, as his former escape companions dropped back and most were passed up by the favourites group containing race leader Contador.
Rujano launched an attack on Finestre from the Contador group, chasing Kiryienka on the dusty unmade roads.
Sylvester Szmyd worked hard at the front of the maglia rosa bunch for Liquigas team-mate Vincenzo Nibali, who was in need of doing something to claw back some time.
By the time Kiryienka crested the summit of Finestre, he had maintained a three-minute advantage over Rujano and fellow chaser Carlos Betancur (Acqua & Sapone) - another remnant from the early escape group.
Meanwhile, a further two minutes back Nibali was struggling to keep in touch with the small group containing Contador, Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC), Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank), John Gadret (Ag2r) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) after Rodriguez upped the pace with an attack.
Nibali re-joined the Contador group on the descent of Finestre, and they were later joined by Roman Kreuziger (Astana) setting up a scrap for time on the day's final ascent, Sestriere.
Rodriguez attacked the group, quickly distancing them and catching up with Betancur, who had now been dropped by Rujano. By this point, Kiryienka was over five minutes ahead of Rujano with only one kilometre left to ride. The stage win was sealed.
On Sunday the rider's face the final stage of the 2011 Giro d'Italia, a revised 25.5km time trial in Milan. With a massive 5-18 advantage over Scarponi in the general classification, Contador could ride the final time trial on a Raleigh Chopper* and still win the race overall**.
* May not meet UCI requirements
** Pending Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing later this year
Brits on way to Milan
British Gand Tour debutant Russell Downing (Sky) completed the penultimate stage of the 2011 Giro despite suffering from injuries resulting from a 20-metre plunge in a ravine during Friday's stage. Sky team-mate and fellow Brit Peter Kennaugh is also set to complete his first Grand Tour.
Meanwhile, David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) will be aiming to finish his Giro with a flourish in the final time trial. Earlier in the race, Millar became the first Briton to wear the leader's jersey in all three Grand Tours.
Giro d'Italia 2011, stage 20: Verbania to Sestriere, 242km
1. Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Movistar
2. Jose Rujano (Ven) Androni Giocattoli at 4-43
3. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 4-50
4. Carlos Betancur (Col) Acqua & Sapone at 5-31
5. John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 5-54
6. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 5-58
7. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank
8. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Sungard
9. Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC at same time
10. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana at 6-16
Overall classification after stage 20
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Sungard in 83-34-25
2. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 5-18
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 6-14
4. John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale
5. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 9-27
6. Jose Rujano (Ven) Androni Giocattoli at 10-23
7. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana at 10-38
8. Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC at 10-51
9. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad at 11-53
10. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 12-03
Vincenzo Nibali suffers on the final climb
Race leader Alberto Contador looked comfortable
Vasili Kiryienka celebrates his stage win
Giro d'Italia 2011: Latest news
Deignan still learning in sixth Grand Tour
Giro changes again as final Milan time trial shortened
What riding the Giro has done for Peter Kennaugh
Millar's time trial practice run
Nibali gives up hope for Giro d'Italia win
Contador ignores Armstrong doping investigation
Giro d'Italia News Shorts (May 24)
Controversial Crostis climb removed from Giro route
Sky leader Lofkvist loses more time at the Giro
Giro contenders struggle with Contador's dominance
Contador widens Giro advantage but Tour doping case waits
Porte reflects, one year after Giro success
Le Mevel goes on attack for Giro's pink jersey
Giro fines Contador for missing press conference
Cavendish responds to 'team car' accusations at Giro
Giro d'Italia News Shorts (May 15)
Giro's Sicilian cyclists proud to face Mount Etna
Contador surprises at Giro with attack ahead of mountains
Contador minds food at Giro as CAS decision nears
Weening supported by Rabobank and model Kroes
Local lad Appollonio bears fruit in Fiuggi
Giro d'Italia News Shorts (May 12 edition)
Blythe finding way in second Grand Tour
Leopard-Trek withdraws from Giro d'Italia
Leopard-Trek uncertain to continue in Giro
Tuesday's Giro stage in memory of Weylandt
Giro doctor describes actions to save Weylandt
Wouter Weylandt killed in Giro crash
Giro news shorts (May 8)
Cavendish likely to take Giro lead tomorrow
Giro 2011: Who will win?
Giro d'Italia 2011: Stage reports
Stage 19: Tiralongo grinds to Giro stage win
Stage 18: Capecchi takes Giro stage win as contenders take day off
Stage 17: Ulissi prevails in controversial Giro sprint
Stage 16: Contador lords it over the rest in Giro TT
Stage 15: Nieve wins mountain marathon as Contador continues at the top
Stage 14: Anton conquers Zoncolan in shortened stage
Stage 13: Contador consolidates Giro overall as Rujano takes stage
Stage 12: Cavendish holds off Appollonio to take second victory
Stage 11: Gadret grabs dramatic stage win
Stage 10: Cavendish opens his Giro account
Stage nine: Contador storms Etna to take Giro lead
Stage eight: Gatto springs late attack to take win
Stage seven: Neo-pro De Clercq wins by a whisker
Stage six: Ventoso steals Giro stage six win
Stage five: Weening holds on to take stage and maglia rosa
Stage four: Tearful Farrar and Leopard-Trek lead riders across stage four finish line
Stage three: Vicioso victory overshadowed by Weylandt crash
Stage two: Petacchi wins as Cavendish takes lead
Stage one: HTC-Highroad wins Giro's opening team time trial
Giro d'Italia 2011: Photo galleries
Stage 19 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 18 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 17 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 16 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 15 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 14 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 13 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 12 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 11 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 10 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage nine photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage eight photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage seven photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Giro d'Italia 2011: Live text coverage
Giro d'Italia 2011 stage 19 live text updates
Giro d'Italia 2011 stage 16 live text updates
Giro d'Italia 2011 stage 13 live text updates
Giro d'Italia 2011 stage 11 live text updates
Giro d'Italia 2011 stage seven live text updates
Giro d'Italia 2011 stage five live text updates
Follow the 2011 Giro d'Italia live with Cycling Weekly
Giro d'Italia 2011: Start list
Giro d'Italia 2011: Start list
Giro d'Italia 2011: TV schedule
Giro d'Italia 2011: British Eurosport TV schedule
Giro d'Italia 2010: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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