Pieter Weening (Rabobank) rose to prominence with a stage win at the 2005 Tour de France with an uphill two-up sprint in Gérardmer against Andreas Klöden and today he added to his Grand Tour account with a solo victory in Orvieto after a long day punctuated by a dramatic final 40km.
"This is perfect," said Weening after the stage. "Before [the Tour de] Romandie I was already strong - behind my win in the Tour de France this is the second biggest victory in my career.
"I'm really happy and I'll try to defend the jersey for as long as possible. The Giro is already is perfect for me."
The 191km journey from Piombino to Orvieto signified a return to racing for the Giro peloton after two days of drama - for all the wrong reasons, however. The death of Wouter Weylandt in an accident during stage three ran fresh in the minds of the riders and the stage started without Weylandt's Leopard Trek teammates and close friend Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo).
Farrar's British teammate David Millar started the day in the race lead but would lose the maglia rosa by day's end after a stage he'll most likely want to forget. The overall ascendancy transferred to Weening, who now sits two seconds ahead of HTC-Highroad's Marco Pinotti and the Italian's teammate Kanstantin Sivtsov.
"It was a very hard day. My crash was a stupid crash," Millar admitted on Italian television. "I always suffer in this part of Italy with the allergies and with everything. I've never been lucky at the Giro d'Italia..."
Like last year's seventh stage to Montalcino, it was the 23km of strade bianche, which came in the final 40km of the stage, which defined the day's proceedings and kept the peloton on its toes - or in some cases off their bikes - at a crucial moment in the day.
And by day's end it was Weening who better managed the risks and benefits of the difficult finale on what Danilo Di Luca admitted were roads better suited to mountain bikes than those made for the road. It was a slim margin at the finish but the 30-year-old managed to hold on for the win.
Drama of the racing kind...
With two third category climbs on the menu and two opportunities for Colnago-CSF rider Gianluca Brambilla to grab points in the king of the mountains competition, the highest point of the day topped out at 930m in Saragiolo - not high stakes but enough to keep the opportunists on their toes.
The man who made the most of the day was Martin Kohler of BMC Racing, who attacked after 12km and was quickly allowed to open a sizeable gap which stretched to 12:50 at its zenith. The Swiss rider became the Giro's fugitiva giornata - the day's fugitive - and with 80km of the stage gone he still held an advantage of nine minutes.
A further 30km down the road and he managed to hold in excess of seven minutes over the peloton; behind him a crash for maglia rosa David Millar - he collided with stage three winner Angel Vicioso while contesting for an intermediate sprint- did little to hinder the progress of the race leader and soon enough he was back in the peloton amongst his teammates.
Like Sebastian Lang on the second stage of this year's event, Kohler was content to continue his toil unabated and make the race come to him, which it did, eventually.
Ballistics on the strade bianche
Kohler hit the first sector of white roads holding an advantage of 5:45 and with 40km left to race he may have started to hope for the best, although it was going to take a gargantuan effort from him to maintain his advantage.
And it was going to be tough, as Liquigas-Cannondale set a blistering pace leading up to the sorrato, splitting up the peloton and slashing the Swiss rider's lead in a matter of kilometres.
The favourites weren't going to be caught unawares; the likes of Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), Roman Kreuziger (Astana) and Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) sat at the head of proceedings over the top of the dirt climb to Croce Di Fighime, It was a wise move because with grandissima fatiga setting in there was still the descent to come, the unpaved roads threatening to wreak havoc on the chasing peloton, which was now in pieces.
Kohler was still out front by a margin of 3:26 at the top of the day's second GPM and Dario Cataldo (Quick Step) and Bram Tankink (Rabobank) emerged as the main pursuers of Kohler. They were trailed by a group of about 30 riders that contained Kreuziger, Garzelli, Vincenzo Nibali, Scarponi and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) some 40 seconds behind and 24km left to race.
Behind, Millar was fighting to stay in pink, the effects of his earlier mishap and the difficulty of the gravel roads taking their toll on the Briton. But in the space of 100 metres, Cataldo fell and Tankink had a mechanical mishap, leaving the main chasing group to pass and attack the final 20 kilometres with Kohler still in front and holding onto an advantage of 1:30.
The winning move
As quickly as Cataldo and Tankink had slipped by the wayside, John Gadret (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Weening tried their luck off the front of the favourites' group. Further back, a mechanical didn't help Garzelli's chances as the gap between Kohler and the rest began to reach critical point for the Swiss superman.
But he never gave up the fight - with 14km left and glory beckoning, a kilometre separated him and the chasing bunch, as Weening and Gadret found themselves in between. Just as it seemed he could hope for a fairytale finish, Gadret and Weening ended Kohler's game with 10km remaining to form a trio that would try to stay away from the hard-charging bunch behind.
Weening didn't want it that way and upped the pace with nine kilometres remaining in an attempt to drop his French and Swiss companions; it worked and soon he had a gap of 10 precious seconds - head down, arms resting on the tops of his handlebars, it was a time trial to the finish for the Dutchman.
Hot on their heels, the chasing group had swelled to form a sizeable peloton that included Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) and Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez. It trailed Weening by 40 seconds with just three kilometers left in the stage, which had become a race of attrition for most.
As Gadret and Kohler were caught with 2.3km remaining it was time for Scarponi to stretch his legs in a solo bid for victory a further 500 metres down the road before Movistar's David Arroyo did so within il ultimo kilometro...And for Weening it was simply a case of hanging on for dear life.
That he did, the Dutchman celebrating his win alone and mustering enough energy to zip his jersey and throw his arms in a triumphant return to racing for la corsa rosa.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com