Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway, riding for Columbia-Highroad, won the seventh stage of the Tour of Italy on Friday at Chiavenna, with LPR's Danilo Di Luca retaining the leader's pink jersey.
Hagen emerged the winner from a five-man late escape over the final 20 kilometres launched coming off the Passo Maloja climb to win the 244km rain-hit stage from Innsbruck as the race came back over the border from Austria.
The win, his first in Italy, was an early birthday present for the Norwegian, who turns 22 on Sunday.
South African Robert Hunter came in second ahead of Russian Pavel Brutt with Italians Davide Viganò and Alessandro Bertolini completing the top five on the day.
Already the winner of the Ghent-Wevelgem Classic this spring at the age of just 21, Hagen said: "Both victories, in Belgium and here in Italy, are very important and you can't really compare them.
"I'm just really happy to be winning. I had great support from the team because I knew they were blocking behind when the break went clear. I didn't start the final sprint too early, I tried waiting for as long as possible for the other guys to go. But I felt strong and it worked out well. It was dangerous on that last descent in the rain. I was lucky that I didn't crash," he added.
Bertolini had made a break going into the final handful of kilometres and established a one-minute lead on the nerve-wracking descent towards Chiavenna - but he was reined in before Hagen just stole it ahead of Brutt.
Four riders made an early move just outside Innsbruck as Mauro Facci, Bartosz Huzarski, Serguei Klimov and Vladimir Isaichev raced nine minutes clear by the 24km mark and they held on until the final climb as the rain made the conditions increasingly slippery.
Bertolini tried in vain to anticipate the sprint as Brutt and jockeyed for supremacy over the final dozen kilometres and made for the line.
Saturday's eighth stage is a 209 kilometre affair from Morbegno to Bergamo.
Meanwhile, Lance Armstrong's Astana team admitted on Friday they have been forced into desperate measures in a bid to publicise a never-ending financial dispute with their key sponsors.
Seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong and his Astana teammates started the Tour of Italy's seventh stage with new shirts and the name of key sponsor, Astana, virtually blocked out.
Currently one of the most successful teams in the peloton, Astana face an uncertain future following reports their Kazakh sponsors have failed to pay team wages several times this year.
On Friday, Armstrong finished 58 seconds behind Hagen and now stands 25th overall, 4 minutes, 31 seconds off the lead.
© AFP 2009