Diego Ulissi surged to his second victory of this year’s Giro d’Italia on a compelling eighth stage as Cadel Evans moved into the leader’s maglia rosa by finishing fifth.
It had looked like Pierre Rolland (Europcar) would take victory at the summit finish in Montecopiolo after a long-range attack, but he was agonisingly caught in the final 400m and Ulissi went on to beat Robert Kiserlovski (Trek Factory Racing) after the duo had launched late bursts for the line.
Evans (BMC) followed eight seconds later, and with previous race leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) having long since been dropped on a mountainous day, the veteran BMC rider moves to the top of the general classification.
All of his rivals for overall victory also finished in the main group, meaning Evans now has 57-second lead over second-placed Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step), with Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) 1min 10sec back in third.
Evans said afterwards: “We are in a good position at the moment, but we saw today, a hard stage, that all the contenders were right there and now we get to the mountains, I think we will see a different kind of racing.”
The 179km eighth stage took the riders into the high mountains for the first time and a ten-man breakaway group containing the likes of Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing), Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani-CSF), Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) moved clear as they set their sights on a stage win.
However, the group swiftly broke apart on the first climb of the day, the Cippo di Carpegna, and soon only Arredondo, Pirazzi and Quemeneur remained at the head of the race.
Arredondo attacked just below the summit to take a solo lead and although his fellow escapees were unable to respond, Rolland surged out of the peloton 31km from home on the descent down the opposite side and started to give chase.
Breakaway riders burn out
Arredondo was able to keep the Frenchman one minute back for much of the second climb, to Villagio del Lago, but he ran out of energy at the foot of the final ascent to Montecopiolo and Rolland eventually caught him with 2.6km to go.
Behind them, a vastly reduced peloton was closing in fast thanks to the efforts Ag2r-La Mondiale and later the BMC team of Evans, but when Rolland dropped Arredondo and entered the final 1km with a 17-second lead, it looked like he had done enough to claim a brilliant win.
Those hopes evaporated when Daniel Moreno (Katusha) attacked with 450m to go and quickly passed him, but the Spaniard also ran out of gas and succumbed to a counter-move from Kiserlovski. Ulissi had followed the Croatian, though, and deftly emerged from his slipstream in the final 100m to claim a classy win.
Ulissi said: “I am absolutely euphoric for this wonderful day. Today I really didn’t expect to win. It was a difficult race. The climbs were too hard for my characteristics, Carpegna especially. But I am really happy."
Stage eight result
1 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida, 4:47:47
2 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Trek Factory Racing, same time
3 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin, +6sec
4 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, st
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC, +8
6 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, st
7 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale, st
8 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo, +14
9 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, +17
10 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp, +20
1 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC, 34:22:35
2 Rigoberto Uran (Col) ) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +57secs
3 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo, +1:10
4 Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC, +1:31
5 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, +1:39
6 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida, +1:43
7 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin, +1:44
8 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, +1:45
9 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Trek Factory Racing, +1:49
10 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +1:50