Spaniard Albert Contador of Astana took the overall lead in the Tour of Italy on Sunday after Italian Emanuele Sella of CSF won the 15th stage.
Sella triumphed on the day in the rain but the plaudits went to Contador, the reigning Tour de France champion, as he managed to negotiate the mountain stage from Arabba to Passo Fedaia including five steep climbs and concede just a handful of seconds to Italian rivals Riccardo Ricco and Danilo Di Luca.
Mountain specialist Sella made it two wins in as many days in the Dolomites to bolster a team which lost Argentine racer Ariel Maximiliano Richeze to a positive doping test before the event. But CSF were smiling again after Sella's exploits - clad in the green of top event climber - and also a second stage place for Italian Domenico Pozzovivo.
Contador, whose team have had to recover from their own doping-related past woes, was ebullient after bagging the leader's pink jersey from Italy's Gabriele Bosisio, who saw his rival shred his narrow 5sec lead going into the day's action.
"It's great. I think it's a good time to get into the pink," said the Spaniard, noting a Monday time trial to come before a rest day and then two "calm" stages.
It could all have been so different as Astana were only invited to the race after Giro d'Italia organisers performed a dramatic u-turn and invited the Kazakh-backed team. Contador and his teammates were initially and controversially not invited to either the Giro or the Tour.
Organisers of the Tour de France, run by the Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) said earlier this year that the doping scandals which plagued Astana at last year's race in France left them with little choice despite the team undergoing a mass clear-out.
Italian media suggested the Giro U-turn came as organisers felt Astana would send in a strong team in the absence of Tour opportunities later this summer.
Contador is therefore enjoying the moment.
"To be in pink is a real gift. I've had a lot of support from the public. Today, I appreciate this jersey all the more as I had not prepared myself for the Giro," he said.
And if the final triumph comes down to the wire and the final time-trial "that won't bother me," said Contador, though he admitted Ricco was still a major concern.
Sella won through after covering the 154km in 4hr 53min 24sec.
He broke away with teammate, Fortunato Baliani, as well as Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez, to lead through the gruelling Pordoi, San Pellegrino, Giau, San Tomaso Agordino and Falzarego climbs on the way to a difficult final ascent up to 2057 metres altitude at the finish.
Sella pulled away on the final climb at Fedaia to put more than two minutes between himself and Pozzovivo and Ricco, who came in third with Contador happy to come in 16sec further adrift alongside Gilberto Simoni as they finished joint fifth.
For full results, report and photos, see Cyclingnews.com.
© AFP 2008