Richie Porte became the first Australian since Robbie McEwen in 2005 to don the Tour of Italy overall leader's pink jersey on Wednesday following the 11th stage, the 262 kilometres ride from Lucera to here.
Porte, a 25-year-old former swimmer and triathlete, replaced Kazakh veteran Alexandre Vinokourov in pink in a stage won by Russian Evgeni Petrov - celebrating his birthday early as he turns 32 on May 25 - in torrential rain that saw the stage disrupted by a river breaking its banks.
Vinokourov and Australian Cadel Evans suffered badly in the wretched conditions losing over 12 minutes to Spain's 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre, who put behind him his disappointing tour so far in which he has fallen three times, to leapfrog the two of them in the overall standings.
Porte, who won the time-trial stage on the Tour of Romandy this season, was stunned at his elevation to overall leader.
"I can scarcely believe this!" he gasped. "I cannot understand how this could happen. But I am in a good position, with a good team who were underestimated by others at the beginning of the race.
"But when one sees how Chris Sörensen, who has already won a stage, sacrificed himself for me as he did today that is impressive. I am going to try and hang onto the pink jersey. But this is the first time that I am competing in a major tour."
Evgeni Petrov wins the stage
Vinokourov, who at 36 has shown he is as hungry as ever for success and restore his battered reputation after being thrown out of the 2007 Tour de France in disgrace for blood doping, for which he received a year's suspension, said that his challenge was not finished.
"It was a very long day. But it is not finished. They (the other favourites) were watching out for me to react. Now, it is for the other teams to dictate matters. The race is a long one."
Sastre was delighted at the end result.
"It is a result beyond our wildest dreams," said Sastre, who is eighth overall, but more importantly over two minutes ahead of Vinokourov and Evans.
"The situation with regards to the bigger picture has been completely turned on its head after a difficult start to the Tour."
Evans was short and to the point about the stage.
"It was a long day, horrible and bizarre."
Sastre had got away with around 60 other riders at the 35km mark before the really bad weather set in and at one point the breakaway group had built up a near 20 minute lead. Both Vinokourov and Evans' teams worked frantically to limit the damage proving costly as both lost two riders apiece.
The business end of the race saw a battle between Germany's Linus Gerdemann and Belgium's Jan Bakelants, but his challenge came to an end when he fell on the drenched surface 1800 metres from the finish line.
Petrov, though, was to deny Gerdemann victory as he crept up on him to cross the line first to record his first success in the race in a career that has rarely tasted the heights that he experienced when crowned junior world champion in 2000.
"I went with the escape group with the idea of winning the stage," said Petrov. "My last win was so long ago (2002) that I can't even remember it!"
Thursday's 12th stage is a 206km ride from Citta Sant'Angelo to Porto Recanati on the Adriatic Coast.
© AFP 2010
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