Vasil Kiryienka rode to an impressive solo victory on stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia on the fabled Sestriere climb to win by over four minutes.
The Belarusian took the second victory of the Grand Tour for his Movistar squad after attacking out of the day’s early breakaway on the lower slopes of the penultimate climb.
Kiryienka held off the attentions of stage 13 winner Jose Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) after the diminutive climber had adopted a similar tactic as he broke clear of the peloton and set off in pursuit.
Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) was the next man home after attacking an elite group of favourites on the long drag up the final climb in a bid to propel himself further up the general classification.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) led home a small group containing race leader Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) who was never troubled on the final day in the mountains.
The Spaniard holds a nearly unassailable lead going into the final time trial around the streets of Milan, heading Scarponi by 5:18 while third placed Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) again lost seconds in the fight to be crowned best of the rest.
After an absence of six years the penultimate stage of the Giro saw the return of the Sestriere climb as the race came within touching distance of the French border.
A tired peloton were forced to cover a 242-kilometre route that ran tantalisingly close to the race’s finish line in Milan, with a flat first half of the stage allowing a group of 13 riders to go clear from the bunch.
The escapees were allowed to build up an advantage in excess of 11 minutes before they began to slide back as Geox took up the chase in the peloton on behalf of Denis Menchov.
The action began to hot up as the race hit the first of the day’s two punishing Alpine climbs, with Kiryienka reaffirming his strong-man status by attacking out of the break on the lower slopes of the Finestre.
With both the break and the peloton fracturing badly on the incline, Rujano followed suit but was hauled back briefly by Rodriguez (Katusha) and Menchov on the testing climb.
An elite group containing the general classification contenders was all that remained on the tree-lined ascent as Rujano kicked for a second time and made the move stick.
The lion’s share of the pacing work was done by Sylwester Szmyd (Liquigas) as riders from the day’s break were slowly reeled in one by one to leave a group of eight men including Contador.
Up the road Rujano was able to link up with South American compatriot Carlos Betancour (Acqua & Sapone) on the exposed gravel roads while Kiryienka continued out front unabated.
A sharp attack from Rodriguez put third placed Nibali into trouble on the upper reaches of the climb and forced the Italian to chase back on during the technical descent.
The main contenders all began to look at each other on the approach to the mythical final peak with Rodriguez again seemingly keenest to push the pace ahead of the final day time trial.
Menchov was the next to blink and pushed on after Rodriguez but could not make the junction and was instead caught and passed by John Gadret (Ag2r).
Both men were overhauled as the road ramped up and the favourites finished largely together close to six minutes after an overjoyed Kiryienka had raised his arms in victory.