Giro 21: Denis Menchov is king of Italy

Konovalovas takes 14.4km time trial in Rome

Russian rider Denis Menchov won the Tour of Italy in Rome Sunday, despite suffering a dramatic fall in the last kilometre of the final stage, a 14.4km time-trial.

The Rabobank cyclist, who is the third Russian to win the race, added the title to his two Tour of Spain victories in 2005 and 2007.

The 31-year-old beat Italian 2007 champion Danilo Di Luca into second at 41 seconds, with his compatriot Franco Pellizzoti rounding off the podium finishers a further 1 minute, 18 seconds adrift.

Lithuanian Ignatas Konovalovas of the Cervelo team won the final stage in a time of 18:42 with Briton Bradley Wiggins only a second back and Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen in third.

Menchov cruises to a 10th-place finish in stage 21 sunday, the famous colosseum looming above.:

Menchov finished 10th on the stage with Di Luca 16th.

"I have nothing to regret," said Di Luca. "I attacked each time I could, whenever it was possible. I can take a lot away from this race: two stage wins, seven days in the pink jersey, and the final points jersey. It's been the greatest race of my life."

Danilo di luca (l) stands next to 2009 giro winner denis menchov in rome sunday.:

The Russian had a 20-second lead coming into the final day in one of the closest ever finishes to a Giro, in its centenary year.

Di Luca briefly looked to be on the brink of a famous victory when he got to the first time-check fastest of all and 5 seconds up on Menchov.

But the LPR rider had blasted out too fast, gradually fading from there and he was 14 seconds down on Menchov at the next time check.

When he came over the line, Di Luca had lost 45 seconds to Konovalovas,  whereas Menchov, who had won the 12th stage time-trial to take over the pink jersey on May 21, was getting stronger.

The Russian looked like he may even win the final time-trial as well but with rain spitting down drama unfolded in the final kilometre.

Riding in a straight line but on a cobbled section, Menchov suddenly crashed with just 1km left to ride, but quick thinking from his mechanic may have secured him the victory.

As Menchov was still sliding along the wet surface, his mechanic had already jumped out of the team car and was unloading another bike from the roof.

Menchov went to pick up his splayed bike but received a shout from the mechanic and instead jumped straight onto the new one and was back on his way, courtesy of a push from the mechanic as well.

He had been going so well, though, that he still had time to spare on Di Luca and despite the crash he gained a further 21 seconds on his rival.

Russian denis menchov (rabobank) (c), flanked by second placed italian danilo di luca (lpr) (l) and franco pellizotti (liquigas) celebrates on the podium in front of rome's colosseum after winning the 92nd giro d'italia on may 31, 2009 at the end of the last stage in rome.:

Final Giro podium: Di Luca, Menchov and Pellizotti

Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre finished fourth and seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong came in 12th.

Sastre said the race had left a "bitter-sweet taste".

"I came with an ambition different from what I achieved," he said. "I won two stages but I missed out on the podium. For three weeks we haven't had a quiet stage. It's been a really tough course."

© 2009 AFP

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