Russian Rabobank rider Denis Menchov won the 12th stage of the Tour of Italy in Riommaggiore on Thursday, a 60.6km individual time-trial, and took over the race lead from Danilo Di Luca.
Menchov completed the dramatic course overlooking the Ligurian Sea in a time of 1 hour, 34 minutes, 29 seconds, which was 20 seconds quicker than America's Levi Leipheimer in second.
Italy's Stefano Garzelli set the initial pace, eventually finishing third in 1:35:32, while Leipheimer's Astana team-mate Lance Armstrong took 13th place, 2 minutes, 26 seconds behind Menchov, propelling him to 12th in the overall standings.
Ivan Basso of Italy and Spain's Carlos Sastre, the reigning Tour de France champion, finished more than two minutes behind Menchov in 11th and 12th place respectively, while Basso's Liquigas team-mate and compatriot Franco Pellizotti took fifth place behind Slovenia's Janez Brajkovic of Astana.
"In this team, there is no hierarchy between Basso and me," said Pellizotti. "It's the journalists who have declared Basso leader. We're both leaders and the strategy remains the same."
Italy's Di Luca began the day with an advantage of 1 minute, 20 seconds over his pursuers but a sixth-fastest time of 1:36:23 saw him drop to second place overall behind Menchov.
"I'm happy," said Di Luca. "Menchov rode very well but I'm happy. I hope to take back the pink jersey as soon as possible. The Giro is open. Anything can still happen."
Menchov clocked an average speed of 38.4km/h on the steep, undulating course, securing his second stage win of the race after winning the fifth stage at the summit of the Alpe di Siusi.
The 31-year-old won the Tour of Spain in 2005 and 2007 and finished fifth in last year's Tour of Italy. He leads Di Luca by 34 seconds in the overall standings, with Leipheimer 40 seconds off the pace in third and Pellizotti 2 minutes back in fourth.
"On this course, 20 seconds behind Menchov is not much," said Leipheimer. "I still think it's possible for me to win the Giro, even if we're missing (injured team-mate Chris) Horner."
Friday's sprinter-friendly 13th stage in picturesque Tuscany takes the riders on a 176km course from Lido di Camaiore to Florence.
© AFP 2009
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