The forgotten man of Italian cycling, Danilo di Luca, has signalled his emergence from the doldrums with a superb victory in the Tour of the Basque Country. Di Luca sealed what ranks as the best win of his career alongside the 2001 Tour of Lombardy with a stunning and unexpected fourth place in the race-ending 9.3km time trial on Friday afternoon.
On a hilly course around O¤ati, Di Luca restricted his losses from surprise stage winner Alberto Contador to just 9 seconds. In doing so he was able to stave off the challenge of Bobby Julich, winner of the equivalent stage in last year's race - and to overturn Aitor Osa's one-second lead going into the stage. Julich was second in the time trial, ridden in horrendous conditions, while Davide Rebellin served notice of his improving form in view of the Ardennes Classics by finishing third.
It was Di Luca's first win since the 2004 Brixia Tour in what has been a troubled two-year period for the former Saeco man. The win also earned the Italian and his Liquigas team 50 points towards the ProTour classification currently headed by Alessandro Petacchi.
Earlier in the day, Di Luca had hinted at his supremacy in the morning's 93km mountain stage to Onati. The 29-year-old's jump with Damiano Cunego at the foot of the final climb came too late to trouble the eventual stage winner Jens Voigt, but it did add four seconds to his advantage over most of the leading contenders for victory.
Cunego faded quickly from Di Luca's wheel and Aitor Osa only saved his yellow jersey thanks to a desperate effort in the dying metres of the stage. Remarkably, Voigt's win was his seventh already this season and arguably his most impressive. Attacking after just ten kilometres, the German quickly burned off Cofidis's Luis Perez and Euskaltel's Gorka Gonzalez who attempted to follow.
The two Davids, Latasa and Blanco, gave chase later, but the Latasa sat up after sewing up his mountains prize over the penultimate climb of the day and Blanco was too far adrift to worry Voigt. The CSC rider's victory margin on a rain-soaked finish line was one minute 15 seconds over Blanco and one minute 34 seconds over Di Luca and Osa.
Stage 5a, Altsasu - O¤ati (Friday morning)
1 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC 93km in 2.23.24
2 David Blanco (Spa) Comunidad Valenciana 1.15
3 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 1.34
4 Aitor Osa (Spa) Illes Balears 1.35
5 Alberto Contador (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.38
6 M.A. Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Phonak
7 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Caffita
8 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
9 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC
10 Michael Rogers (Aus) Quick Step
Stage 5b, Onati time trial
1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Wrth 9.3km in 13.43
2 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC 0.05
3 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.08
4 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 0.09
5 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Phonak 0.11
6 Michael Rogers (Aus) Quick Step 0.13
7 Angel Vicioso (Spa) Liberty Seguros 0.15
8 Michael Boogerd (Hol) Rabobank 0.20
9 Ricardo Serrano (Spa) Kaiku 0.22
10 Aitor Osa (Spa) Illes Balears 0.24
12 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 0.28
13 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 0.29
14 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel
15 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner
16 Bradley McGee (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 0.32
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 18.13.53
2 Rebellin 0.03
3 Contador 0.11
4 Osa 0.14
5 Julich 0.18
6 Pereiro 0.24
7 Boogerd 0.25
8 Rogers 0.26
9 Cunego 0.27
10 Serrano 0.29
15 Evans 0.56
16 McGee 1.02