Overall leader Joaquim Rodriguez put in a show of force to win the most testing stage in the 2012 Giro d’Italia this afternoon.
The Spaniard took his second win of this year’s race to retain his narrow lead over nearest competitors Ryder Hesjedal (+30”) and Ivan Basso (+1’ 22”).
Basso, who has two overall classification wins to his name, set out to control today’s stage. His team Liquigas closed down an early breakaway and set an unforgiving pace to gradually whittle down the bunch.
Their effort on the penultimate climb, category two Forcella Staulanzathe, claimed Astana leader Roman Kreuziger as today’s greatest casualty. The Czech rider lay fifth in the overall classification going into the stage, but lost over ten minutes and any chances of the title within the closing 40kilometres.
As riders suffered, the green shirts of Liquigas hammered the race along, with their man looking comfortable at the front. But soon enough, Sylvester Szmyd pulled up by the roadside with a puncture - Basso had only one man left as he approached the final climb.
Within minutes teammate Eros Capechhi also dropped off, leaving their team leader without support.
Basso then made his attack at the base of the ominous Passo Giau – a move that only five riders could stick with.
He continued the powerful lead, trying in vain to drive his rivals into the ground through sheer perseverance. Domenico Pozzovino of Colgano reached the 7,336ft Dolomite peak first, with Hesjedal, Basso and Rodriguez in tow.
Having lost time on the climb, Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran and Lampre’s Michele Scarponi regained contact only after kilometres of furious descending.
At 1.5kilometres to go, Basso attacked again. Through the narrow, winding streets the Italian launched another ill-fated attempt to ride clear of the group. Basso, who left his competitors under no illusions that he intended to dominate the stage, simply didn’t have the oomph to get away.
It was Rodriguez, who had sat patiently in pack for much of the day, that had the legs come crunch-time. He edged past Basso with an impressive turn of pace, much to the frustration of the Italian, who finished second and remains third in the overall standings.
With only four stages of the three-week race to go, there is a real chance of Rodriguez taking his first Grand Tour.