Overall leader Ivan Basso didn't contest Leonardo Piepoli's final sprint to the finish on a cold and rainy Plan de Corones on Wednesday, as the Italian cyclist for Saunier Duval won his second stage at the Giro d'Italia bike race.
While it was touted as the toughest stage of the 2006 Giro, the teams convinced organizers to go around the snowy Passo delle Erbe before the race started; and snow atop the Plan de Corones prompted a further shortening of the race on that trecherous final climb.
At the end of the day, Basso retained his huge margin, actually putting a few more seconds into hanger-on Jose Gutierrez. Last year's winner, Paolo Savoldelli, lost another 1 1/2 minutes on Wednesday's stage and lost 3rd place to Gilberto Simoni.
Only two riders broke away from the peloton during this cold and wet 74-mile race between Termino and Kornplatz. They were captured early in the final climb after a chase by Team CSC (Basso's) and Saunier Duval (Piepoli's and Simoni's).
Twenty or so climbing specialists took over on the climb, originally slated as 10 miles with a repaved two-mile finish that was essentially a gravel access road to the top of a ski slope. Even with the route shortened, the course was hard enough.
Piepoli drove the tempo some of the time, but was joined by Perez Cuapio (a Mexican cyclist on Ceramica Panaria), whose driving pace spelled the end for other riders.
Eventually, Basso just hung onto Piepoli's wheel and followed him all the way to the top.
Thursday's 130-mile stage goes through a corner of Austria before ending in Gemona del Friuli. There are two good climbs, although the overall route loses elevation.