Bart De Clercq announced his arrival on the professional scene with victory in Santuario Di Montevergine on a day where the favourites had to mark each other and did so on the final climb, setting up an intriguing second week of the season's first Grand Tour.
The Omega Pharma-Lotto Belgian attacked with eight kilometres remaining and benefited from the youthful enthusiasm of a neo-pro to hold on for a memorable win on what was arguably the Giro's most decisive day in terms of the general classification battle, where the complexion of the overall standings became a little clearer.
Asked if he thought about compatriot Wouter Weylandt - who died following a crash in stage three - during his solo escape before winning this afternoon, De Clercq admitted that he didn't but was quick to add, "I want to dedicate this win to Wouter and his family; it's really difficult for them at the moment."
Maglia rosa wearer Pieter Weening (Rabobank) finished in the 26-rider front group on the Giro's first summit finish and defended his position atop general classification. The 30-year-old Dutchman maintained his two-second advantage over HTC-Highroad teammates Kanstantsin Sivtsov and Macro Pinotti.
One of the big names to stake his claim today on this year's Giro was Lampre-ISD's Michele Scarponi, the Italian veteran happy with his second place on the stage and the subsequent move up the overall standings, on which he sits fifth.
"I'm happy with my teammates' pursuit of the break...I'm grateful to all of them," said Scarponi after the stage. "It was important that today I was in the front group. I had to arrive in great condition and today my team helped me do that."
The break Scarponi's teammates had to chase consisted of a five-man group that headed out with 30km of the day's 110km elapsed. Federico Canuti (Colnago-CSF Inox), Jérôme Pineau (Quickstep Cycling Team), Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli), Lars Ytting Bak (HTC-Highroad) and Matteo Montaguti (AG2R La Mondiale) went it alone and after 40km of racing had established a gap of 3:20.
Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team) decided he wanted a piece of that action and set off in pursuit of the leaders, getting across to the quintet just outside Avellino, with 24.4km remaining.
As the stage neared the final 20km the break had 1:50 over the peloton with 21.7km remaining, although there was the day's big climb still to come, which would take its toll on the escapees.
And so it was, as Visconti and Pineau sat up and waited for the peloton while the remaining four went it alone with 16km left to race; the gap had dropped significantly to 40 seconds and these two were swept up and spat out two kilometres later.
Lampre-ISD had turned its attention from helping Alessandro Petacchi to Michele Scarponi as the general classification battle was set to heat up as the sun continued to beat down on the peloton.
The members of that peloton soon found themselves separated as the group split up significantly on the 17km ascent to the finish; the pace set by Liquigas-Cannondale to aid Vincenzo Nibali was fierce and demonstrated the power of the Italian squad.
Hoping against all hope, Bak backed his chances of staying away until the finish and attacked the break with 12km remaining; he had held onto 20 seconds' advantage with 10km left to race as the one-out attacks started behind the Dane.
It was game over for the HTC-Highroad rider with 8.3km to run however, which was the cue for one of yesterday's heroes, Stefano Pirazzi (Colnago-CSF Inox), to launch another ill-fated attack on the slopes to Santuario Di Montevergine. The Italian's move didn't work, unlike that of De Clercq, who launched his own move with eight kilometers to go.
He quickly amassed a lead of 22 seconds, which soon extended to 33 with less than four clicks until the summit finish. Behind him Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli) hit out solo, with Acqua e Sapone setting tempo. Not content with one pointless attack, Pirazzzi tried to get away again as Rodriguez was swept up, while De Clercq sat on a 30-second lead.
As the 24-year-old hit two kilometers to go, the gap had blown out to 1:05, the victory certain - or so it seemed. In the final 300 metres Scarponi, Kreuziger, Garzelli and Nibali charged hard at the young rider but he managed to hold on for the win by a very narrow margin.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com