Veteran German rider Jens Voigt won his first ever stage in the Tour of Italy when he took the 18th leg on Thursday. The stage was a 147km ride from the Swiss town of Mendrisio, the venue for the 2009 world championships, to Varese which will host this year's edition.
Spain's Tour de France champion Alberto Contador retained the overall leader's pink jersey, despite coming in nearly eight minutes behind with the peloton.
Contador, who is unable to defend his Tour de France crown this year because his Astana team were not invited by the race organisers owing to several drugs scandals not involving the Spaniard, admitted that Thursday could prove a real test of his ability to protect his lead.
"It will be a difficult day. I am expecting to be attacked but I am confident," said Contador, who leads two Italians Riccardo Ricco, who trails by 41 seconds, and 36-year-old two-time Giro champion Gilberto Simoni, who is over a minute behind.
Voigt, 36, dropped his fellow escapees, who had broken away shortly after the start, some 40km from the finish and stayed out in front, finishing more than a minute in front of Italian trio Giovanni Visconti - who wore the pink jersey for several days earlier in the race - Rinaldo Nocentini and Gabriele Bosisio.
While it was Voigt's first stage win in the Giro, he has tasted success in the Tour de France winning two stages in 2001 and 2006 and wore the overall leader's yellow jersey for two days, once in 2001 and once in 2005.
"The rider who seizes the initiative, who attacks the first, is favoured in this situation," said Voigt. "When I found myself in the breakaway, my team director said to me that it wasn't a particularly good idea to find myself in such a group.
"But once I was with them then it was imperative to get a result," he added.
On Friday the Giro returns to the mountains for the 19th stage, a 228km run from Legnano to Monte Pora.
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.
© AFP 2008