Italian rider Franco Pellizotti won the 17th stage of the Tour of Italy on Wednesday, an 83 kilometres ride from Chieti to Blockhaus.
Russia's Denis Menchov retained the overall leader's pink jersey with a 26-second advantage over Italian LPR rider Danilo de Luca.
Pellizotti's win on the day was a reward for an audacious solo run over the final 14km as he crossed the line at Maiella national park with compatriots Stefano Garzelli and Di Luca in pursuit at some 40 seconds adrift.
Menchov came in fourth as he lost 5 seconds to Di Luca in the stage.
US comeback man Lance Armstrong tried gamely to keep 31-year-old Pellizotti in his sights over the final climb of 18km at a 6.9 percent gradient, but was unable to keep with the leaders.
Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer meanwhile finished almost two minutes off the pace along with Spaniard Carlos Sastre.
Bouygues Telecom's Thomas Voeckler tried an early breakaway but as the final climb began he had been reined in as Pellizotti geared up for victory.
As the Italian gradually extended his lead, Di Luca elected to up the ante, Menchov, Ivan Basso and Garzelli joining his bid to close the gap.
As Di Luca tried to eat into the Menchov overall lead Pellizotti maintained his rhythm, increasing his lead.
Di Luca's day was bolstered by his picking up eight bonus seconds for taking third place as he tries to wrest the race leadership from Menchov.
Pellizotti stands third overall, two minutes adrift with Basso fourth at 3:28, while Sastre is 3:30 off after an undistinguished ride Wednesday.
It was a third Giro stage win for Pellizotti after Peschici (2006) and a 2008 time-trial at Plan de Corones.
Thursday's 18th stage comprises a 182km ride from Sulmona to Benevento but the key challenge for Di Luca will be Friday's stage to Vesuvius, where Menchov will seek to hold him at bay as best as possible before the Russian looks to cement his status in Sunday's time-trial in Rome itself.
Pellizotti does not rule out making his own challenge for the crown on current form.
"Everything is still possible. Nobody expected to see me on the podium after my difficulties (Monday) at Monte Petrano. But I am in great form and there is still Vesuvius to come."
© 2009 AFP
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