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Jos Rujano (Colombia-Selle Italia) won Saturday's epic showdown in the Italian Alps, but Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) hangs on to the maglia rosa with one day left to go in the 88th Giro d'Italia.
The 49kg Rujano almost proved a giant-killer when he attacked with 5km to go in the 190km march over the formidable Colle delle Finestre. The Venezuelan ran out of asphalt on the road to Sestriere to win the 19th stage but not before putting a fright into the Italian favourites.
Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Caffita) and Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi) joined forces to thrown down the gauntlet on the gravel road climb up the spectacular Finestre, leaving Savoldelli on the ropes. The Discovery Channel captain was soon isolated, but he didn't fold. Although he forfeited the maglia rosa momentarily, he battled back on the big-ring climb to Sestriere to sew up his second victory in the corsa rosa in four years.
"I rode up my own pace on the Finestre because I didn't want to explode," said Savoldelli, after coming across the line sixth at 1-55. "I used the time I had to my advantage and knew I had some room to play."
Simoni, Di Luca and Rujano pulled clear on the fearsome 18km Finestre climb and hit the summit nursing a 2-19 lead on Savoldelli. Il Falco used his superb descending skills to good use, trimming the gap by nearly a half-minute on the treacherous 6km descent.
Savoldelli picked up some stragglers on the run up to Sestriere and enjoyed big help from Davitamon-Lotto's Wim van Huffel and Mauricio Ardila to limit the losses to the leading trio.
Di Luca cramped up early on the 9.8km Sestriere climb and Simoni couldn't answer when Rujano danced away with 4.5km to go. Had he been able to stay with Rujano, he would have won the Giro. Instead, the two-time Giro champion will have to settle for runner-up status by 28 seconds.
"Rujano didn't do any work at all on the Finestre so he was fresher when he attacked at Sestriere I couldn't follow," Simoni said. "It's too bad not to win this Giro, but Savoldelli has shown he's strong in this race. I am satisfied to be on the podium."
For Rujano, a stage victory caps a remarkable grand tour debut for the 23 year old Venezuelan who many are already tapping as a future Giro champion. "I was thinking more about the stage victory because Savoldelli is an experienced champion who knew what he had to do today," said Rujano, who also wins the best climber's jersey. "We decided to wait until the final climb because the pace was too on the Finestre."
The 88th Giro concludes Sunday with a short 119km romp to Milan after a morning homage to Fabio Casartelli in his hometown to mark the 10th anniversary of his death in the 1995 Tour de France.
Stage 19, Savigliano-Sestriere
1 Jos Rujano (Ven) Colombia-Selle Italia 190km in 5.49.30
2 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 0.26
3 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 1.37
4 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Saunier Duval 1.53
5 Wim van Huffel (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 1.55
6 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) Domina Vacanze
7 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel
8 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Phonak
9 Mauricio Ardila (Col) Davitamon-Lotto 2.38
10 Emanuele Sella (Ita) Panaria 5.06
1 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 88.01.43
2 Simoni 0.28
3 Rujano 0.45
4 Di Luca 2.42
5 Garate 3.11
6 Honchar 4.22
7 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Illes Balears 11.15
8 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crdit Agricole 11.38
9 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 11.40
10 Sella 12.33
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