Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre won his second stage of the centenary Tour of Italy on the 19th stage over 164km from Avellino to Vesuvio on Friday, as Russian Denis Menchov held onto the leader's pink jersey.
Spaniard Sastre (Cervelo) broke clear on the final 13km climb up Mount Vesuvius and shed companion Ivan Basso (Liquigas) in the final 5km to add this to his win in Monday's 16th stage.
But he failed in his other aim to propel himself into a podium position as Italian Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), who was defending a 1 minute, 30 second lead over the Spaniard in the overall standings, fought back to lose only 21 seconds as he came home in second.
Behind that, 2007 champion Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) attacked incessantly to try to shed Rabobank's Menchov on the climb but the Russian held his wheel all the way to the line.
Di Luca took third place, though, and managed to snatch the 8-second time bonus that comes with that to cut Menchov's lead to just 18 seconds and set up a thrilling time-trial finish in Rome on Sunday.
As the last mountain stage on this year's tour, fireworks were expected and the riders didn't fail to deliver.
Mauro Facci of Quick Step and Yuriy Krivtsov of AG2R broke away after 16km and built up a lead of more than seven minutes at one point.
But with Di Luca aware that valuable time could be gained on Menchov with bonuses on the line, his LPR team chased hard and they had caught the escapees by the foot of the volcano.
The beginning of the climb was a bit cagey with everyone watching each other but with about 7.5km still to go Basso, who was fourth overall, attacked.
That prompted a quick response from Sastre, a place and two seconds behind the Italian on the GC, and the pair started to build up a lead.
The attack created two competitions. Up front Basso and Sastre were racing each other for position but also trying to drag themselves back into a podium place.
Behind Di Luca kept putting in bursts of speed to try to drop Menchov but the Russian shadowed his every move.
Pellizotti then also had a couple of digs while up front Sastre shed Basso as he opened up a minute's lead on the chasers.
That gap put Pellizotti's podium position under threat and so he attacked again with 2km left while his Liquigas team-mate Basso sat up and waited for his countryman to help pace him up towards Sastre.
That move worked as Pellizotti had lost only 21 seconds by the time he reached the line.
Meanwhile Menchov grimly held on to Di Luca's wheel and they overtook Basso near the end to come home just 30 seconds behind Sastre.
Di Luca now has two more chances to snatch the pink jersey as there are time bonuses on offer on the line in Saturday's 20th stage, while the final 15km time-trial on Sunday will also give him a chance to close the 18-second gap.
© 2009 AFP
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