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Today's stage to the spectacular summit finish at Limone Piemonte was one of promises fulfilled. Ivan Basso lived up to his recent comments about going for a stage win and some element of redemption for his failure to challenge overall by taking a fine solo win, while Gilberto Simoni was as good as his rest day word, attacking and dropping race leader Paolo Savoldelli on that final climb, where he gained 50 seconds on the maglia rosa and moved into second place at Danilo Di Luca's expense.
Although the key action naturally occurred on the final climb, what had taken place on the previous two was also hugely significant. The first of them, the first-cat Madonna del Colletto, started with a large pack three minutes or so down on six breakways. True to his word, defending champion Damiano Cunego set the pace on the front of the group, which had thinned rapidly by the summit.
Another 20 kilometres on, the Lampre-led maglia rosa group reached the second-cat Colletto del Moro, just three kilometres long but with sections of 20 per cent as it climbed up through the mountain forest. Cunego was at the front again, and Simoni just slightly behind, and this time the pace was so fierce that these six breakaways were all overhauled.
The leading group slimmed down quickly as Simoni pushed on past Cunego. Basso was the only rider able to follow the Lampre man with ease, although mountains leader Jos Rujano responded as well. Savoldelli and Di Luca, however, both struggled to follow Simoni's pace, which seemed an obvious indication of what was to follow.
The leaders came back together in the valley leading to the final climb. On the false flat here Basso jumped in behind an attack by Euskaltel's Samuel Sanchez and was joined by CSC team-mate Frank Schleck, who buried himself over the next few kilometres in an attempt to get Basso clear of the group behind.
The tactic worked well. Schleck pushed hard through the resort of Limone Piemonte, until Liberty Seguros' Giampaolo Caruso attacked when the road steepened and narrowed with 7km remaining. Basso responded and countered, dropped Caruso and cruised away to his first-ever Giro stage win. No wonder he was beaming at the finish.
Behind, the maglia rosa group was being led very quickly by Cunego again. Attacks came at the same point Caruso had made his move. Mauricio Ardila went first, Simoni reacted with a burst of his own, and only Rujano and fourth-placed Juanma Garate were able to stay with him.
While Di Luca was rapidly dropped, Savoldelli hung on. For a couple of kilometres his deficit on Simoni was just 10 or 15 seconds, but it eased out slowly as Simoni and Rujano worked together on the climb up the natural amphitheatre above the Limone Piemonte resort. Garate slipped back to the Savoldelli group, where the race leader received plenty of assistance in his chase from Serhiy Honchar and Garate's team-mate Ruben Lobato.
At the finish, Simoni came round Rujano to take the 12-second bonus for second place on the stage, but went too soon and saw the Venezuelan slip past on the line to leave Simoni with just eight seconds to add to the 42 gained on the road. It's the kind of race where those four seconds might turn out to be vital.
Savoldelli will be hoping to extend his lead again in tomorrow's Turin time trial. On today's evidence he'll need to be a couple of minutes ahead before Saturday's decisive mountain stage to Sestriere to be in with a good chance of hanging on to his lead into Milan on Sunday.
Stage 17, Varazze-Limone Piemonte
1 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 194km in 5.15.46 (36.86kph)
2 Jos Rujano (Ven) Selle Italia 1.06
3 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Caffita
4 Wim van Huffel (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 1.32
5 Ivan Parra (Col) Selle Italia 1.48
6 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Saunier Duval
7 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel
8 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) Domina Vacanze
9 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Phonak
10 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Illes Balears
11 Dario Cioni (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 1.55
20 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 3.24
1 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 81.24.50
2 Simoni 0.58
3 Rujano 1.24
4 Di Luca 1.26
5 Garate 2.11
6 Honchar 4.05
7 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crdit Agricole 4.26
8 Emanuele Sella (Ita) Panaria 6.27
9 Karpets 6.44
10 Cioni 6.47
13 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 9.39
- Tom Boonen, perfectly set up by his Quick Step team-mates, won his second consecutive stage at the Tour of Belgium today, coming home a bike length clear of LPR's Mikhaylo Khalilov in a bunch sprint in Knokke-Heist. The Quick Step rider leads overall by five seconds from Nico Eeckhout.
There was a bunch sprint too at the conclusion of the second stage of the Tour of Bavaria in Krumbach. Ag2r's Jean-Patrick Nazon won it to give a signal of his improving condition before the Tour de France. Gerolsteiner's Sebastian Siedier leads the race by three seconds from stage one winner Jan Svorada.
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