Spain's Alberto Contador of Astana won the Tour of Italy on Sunday following the final stage, a 28.5 km time trial won by Italian Marco Pinotti of High Road.
The Spaniard snapped an 11-year Italian winning streak in the event - Russia's Pavel Tonkov was the last non-Italian to lift the crown in 1996 - to also triumph in his first showing here at the age of 25 as he came in ahead of a trio of home hopes.
Contador, the Tour de France champion, was never in danger of losing his 4sec overnight lead over SDV challenger Riccardo Ricco of Italy, who struggled on the final day, as he added another major race win to his burgeoning portfolio to ease the pain of having to miss the Tour de France.
"I respect their (organisers') decision not to invite us even if I don't share it. I don't think they will change their mind," said Contador, who did not land a stage win throughout but showed great consistency through three weeks of racing starting at Palermo on May 10.
"I was only told I was in a week beforehand," explained the champion, whose Astana team was only invited officially those few days before the start having initially been barred by organisers after being plagued by doping scandals.
Organisers of the Tour de France, run by the Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) said earlier this year that the doping scandals which plagued Astana at last year's French race had left them with little choice despite the team undergoing a mass clear-out.
The team's former leader, Alexandre Vinokourov, was fired after testing positive for a blood transfusion during last year's Tour de France.
Weeks after the Vinokourov controversy his fellow Kazakh Andrey Kashechkin also tested positive for blood doping. Other teams riders, including Matthias Kessler and Eddy Mazzoleni, were also involved in doping affairs. Unlike the French, the Italians relented and finally allowed Astana in. Contador said the mountains had been tough.
"I had a hard time of it at Alpe de Pampeago, the day before tackling the Marmolada. It was only after the Marmolada, when I had donned the pink jersey, that I really believed I could win it. "I had to keep my mind on the job and be reflective and I managed it. Having bagged the pink jersey that helped me a lot and was a blow to the others."
Contador said he had been surprised by his season.
"When I knew we weren't going to the Tour de France the goals changed. I don't know what will happen regarding the Tour of Spain but I think this season is better than if I had won the Tour a second time. It was worth breaking off my holidays to come to win this one in Italy!"
Contador added he believed the Tour was the tougher of the pair to win.
"Why? Because it is a race you have to prepare for months. Last year, I was just empty at the end of the Tour, whereas here I lived from day to day."
Ricco held on to second spot but his efforts on the final day saw him end up 1min 57sec adrift while Marzio Bruseghin was third, 2min 54sec off the pace as he booted compatriot Franco Pellizotti off the overall podium by 2sec.
Outgoing champion Danilo Di Luca finished eighth after giving Contador a run for his money in the penultimate mountain stage.
A steeper than usual 91st edition was marked by rainy conditions and gave the sprinters relatively little room to shine whereas Italian climber Emanuele Sella bagged three stage wins for an impressive CSF.
A flat final time trial saw the leaders with little left in the tank and the 30-year-old shared in the final day plaudits by seeing off German teammate Tony Martin by 7sec with Russian Mikhail Ignatiev third.
Contador was happy to keep the gap to 40sec as Ricco's challenge slid away.
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.
© AFP & BikeRadar 2008