Danilo Di Luca tightened his grip on the race leader's pink jersey by winning the 262km 10th stage of the Tour of Italy from Cuneo to Pinerolo on Tuesday.
Italy's 2007 champion, of the LPR team, attacked on the descent of the Pra Martino climb and left all his rivals in his wake to take his eighth Giro stage win in a little over six and a half hours.
Di Luca now holds an overall lead of 1 minute, 20 seconds on Russian Denis Menchov, the two-time Tour of Spain champion who rides for Rabobank.
Australian Michael Rogers of Columbia is third overall while American Levi Leipheimer of Astana is fourth ahead of Italy's 2006 champion Ivan Basso, who rides for Liquigas.
Basso's teammate, Franco Pellizotti, took second on the stage 10 seconds back with Menchov limiting his losses to finish third ahead of reigning Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre of Spain, of the Cervelo team.
Basso, Leipheimer and Rogers, who along with Menchov, Sastre and Di Luca are considered the main contenders for overall victory, finished 29 seconds back in the company of Lance Armstrong.
Sweden's Thomas Lövkvist, who began the day second overall, lost 1:39 to drop down the standings.
The 11th stage is a largely flat course over 214km from Turin to Arenzano, but it is Thursday's 60.6km time trial that will be preoccupying the minds of the pink jersey favourites on Wednesday.
Di Luca said earlier this week he hoped to go into the crucial race against the clock with a two-minute lead on his closest rivals, to whom he expects to lose minutes rather than seconds.
And after Tuesday's win he reflected: "The situation's improved in terms of the time trial. Perhaps I'll be able to hold on to the leader's pink jersey.
"Today I raced as if it was a classic, The distance, the finish, it was like the Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It was made for riders like me," Di Luca added.
After a series of attacks in the first 40km it wasn't until the Moncenisio climb halfway through the stage that anyone managed to stay away. Former Giro champion Stefano Garzelli managed to open up a lead of almost five and a half minutes on the peloton by the time he went over the top of the mammoth climb at Sestriere.
In between, though, there were a number of chasers, including ISD pair Andriy Grivko and Giovanni Visconti. They caught Garzelli on the 45km descent from Sestriere while the peloton also ate into the Italian's lead. On the climb up Pra Martino Pellizotti attacked and swept past the leaders but he was caught by Di Luca on the descent.
"The difference came on the downhill. I knew this section as I'd been over it twice," said Di Luca afterwards.
Di Luca then sprung off on a final 1km bump in the road and pulled away to snatch his second victory of this year's Giro and, more importantly, extend his lead in the pink jersey competition.
In so doing he proved to be the most in-form rider at the moment but that form will be severely tested on Thursday when he will have a hard task holding onto his lead.
© AFP 2009
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