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Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez kept a hold on his pink jersey, sprinting to the win in today’s stage 17 out of a group including most of the serious remaining GC contenders at the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
After a difficult day in the mountains that saw the peloton ripped apart – a 187km route from Falzes to Cortina d’Ampezzo with three categorized climbs – a final group of six contenders made it down to the bottom of the final descent together, contesting the sprint in Cortina.
The top three overall at the start of the day were also on the podium for today’s stage, with Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) nipping Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) on the line for second and third. All three finished with the same time.
There was no change in the top three of the GC standings, with Purito leading the Canadian by 30 seconds and Basso by 1:22. But defending champion Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) moved up into fourth, and Rigoberto Uran (Sky) jumped to fifth.
Hesjedal, who has traded pink with Purito a couple times already, still has the advantage for the final overall title. He is the strongest time trialist of the leaders, and could overcome the 30-second deficit on Sunday’s final 31.5km TT in Milan, if he can keep the gap close as the race heads back into the big mountains Friday and Saturday.
“Hesjedal is the big favorite,” admitted Rodríguez after the stage, referring to the upcoming time trial. “He has not lost any seconds now, and if the differences remain the same, Scarponi, Basso and I have no chance against him in the time trial in Milan. It is necessary now to attack and try to [put distance between us], otherwise he will win.”
Scarponi agreed: “He went through difficult times in the first two weeks and we made the mistake of not [taking advantage of it]. He’s very dangerous because he is strongest in the race against the clock.”
Today’s win was the second stage win so far in this year’s Giro for the 33-year-old Spaniard, who has never won a grand tour.
Italy’s Basso made the first move for the line and got a small gap, but Rodríquez got his wheel and quickly jumped around him for the win.
“It was a very difficult stage, a great day of cycling,” Bass said. “The ranking has moved a little, but not as I expected.”
Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran continues to be a surprise in this year’s race, finishing with the leaders again today and cracking the top five overall. “The stage went very well for me,” he said. “I’m in condition. But on the Giau I had no legs to attack and make a difference.”
Two Astana riders suffered the worst blows on GC, as Paolo Tiralongo and Roman Kreuziger were both sent off the back of the leaders’ group. Tiralongo lost almost three minutes on the leaders when he was unable to keep up with the accelerations on the final climb.
And Kreuziger suffered the biggest loss, ceding over 10 minutes after being dropped on the penultimate climb.