Australia's Cadel Evans won a gruelling seventh stage of the Tour of Italy over 222km from Carrara to Montalcino on Saturday as Alexandre Vinokourov regained possession of the race leader's pink jersey.
Evans's hopes of going on to battle for overall victory appeared dead and buried as early as the fourth stage following his BMC team's disastrous performance in the team time trial.
However in grim weather the former two-time runner-up in the Tour de France produced the kind of gutsy ride that won him the world champion's jersey in Mendrisio last year before dominating Italian Damiano Cunego of Lampre and Astana's Vinokourov in a tough uphill sprint finish.
Evans revealed he and his team had targeted the stage, and that strategy paid off as he moved from 16th up to second overall.
"It's a stage that was suited for me and we prepared well for it. The course reconnaissance we did paid off," said the Aussie.
Vinokourov led the race for a day following stage three, and now leads Evans by 1min 12sec overall with Briton David Millar, of Garmin, in third at 1:29.
Overnight leader Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas lost more than two minutes after a crash just over 30km from home saw him lose touch with the leaders.
On an impressive day of racing pouring rain and tricky gravel roads over the last 25km added to the peloton's challenge of what was a tough undulating stage.
To a man every rider came home covered from head to toe in mud. Former Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre of Cervelo was among the most disappointed, the Spaniard trailing in more than five minutes behind.
Italian Nibali and team leader and compatriot Ivan Basso had started the day in first and second place overall, and their crash proved a turning point.
It gave Kazakhstan's Vinokourov, who started fourth overall at 33secs behind, the spur to attack along with a small group of riders. Evans was initially absent from the breakaway but dug deep and eventually closed the gap.
Evans and Vinokourov drove the lead group on and in the final 10km Evans responded immediately when Vinokourov broke out of the front group.
Despite Cunego leading a small group of chasers, coming into the final 2km Evans looked the strongest and he led out the five-man train before putting his head down and giving his rivals no chance with a well-dosed attack in the final 500m.
Cunego, a former Giro winner and as equally adept at the hilly one-day classics as Evans, said the tough conditions had given the stage an air of how it used to be before races began to be held on almost perfect roads.
"With the rain and the roads in the finale, it was like a race from another age," said Cunego. "Evans and Vinokourov were the stongest. I needed a miracle just to stick on their wheels."
Nibali dropped to fifth overall at 1:33 with Basso eighth at 1:51.
Sunday's eighth stage should mix up the overall standings even more following a 189km ride from Chianciano to Monte Terminillo which ends on the race's first summit finish.
And with the day's damage done, Vinokourov, who returned to racing in 2009 following a two-year ban for blood doping, proclaimed: "The race is now on."
Evans meanwhile knows there's a long way to go.
"I think second is a good position to be in right now. We'll see tomorrow how the first true mountain stage goes. There's a long way to go before Verona."
© AFP 2010
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.