Italy's Vincenzo Nibali strengthened his overall lead in the Giro d'Italia today after battling through treacherous conditions to finish second behind compatriot Mauro Santambrogio in the race's first Alpine summit finish.
With temperatures plummeting to zero amidst intermittent freezing rain, Santambrogio and Nibali accelerated away from a small group of favourites 1.5 kilometres from the mist-shrouded summit finish, crossing the line nine seconds ahead of closest pursuer Carlos Alberto Betancur.
Nibali's closest rivals in the overall standings, Rigoberto Uran of Colombia and Australia's Cadel Evans, finished 30 and 35 seconds down. Overall, Nibali leads Evans by one minute and 26 seconds, with Uran remaining third but slipping to two minutes 46 seconds behind.
Nibali, who tried to warm up his cold hands by rubbing his palms together after donning the pink jersey on the winner's podium, assessed: "It's been a good day."
"The only thing that's made me unhappy about this stage is that one of my team mates, (Italy's) Alessandro Vanotti, crashed out halfway through, I hope he's ok."
Referring to the climb, Nibali said: "I knew the last two kilometres were the hardest part, so I went for it at that point to do as much damage as possible and get as many seconds as possible on my direct rivals."
The treacherous weather conditions led to one climb, the second category Col du Sestriere, cancelled.
Organisers had meetings with local authorities and police on Saturday to discuss whether Sunday's summit finish on the Col du Galibier climb could go ahead.
"The cold was a real factor today," Nibali said. "I think it affected everybody and that could have been why I was able to take quite a bit of time on my rivals."
"Just getting on the wheel of Nibali when he accelerated away was hard enough, I wasn't thinking about getting the stage win at that point," Vini Fantini rider Santambrogio told reporters.
"But then we both played our cards and worked to create as big a gap as possible, I got a stage win, which was my pre-race objective, and Vincenzo has managed to put half a minute on his most serious rivals, which is what he wanted."
As the bad weather that has battered the Giro for the last 10 days continued unabated, four riders did not start and a further three, including former Giro and Tour leader David Millar of Britain, did not finish the stage.
"It was one of the hardest stages I've ever experienced with the rain, freezing cold and snow," Santambrogio, who moved up to fourth overall, commented. "Everybody suffers on a day like this but at least I got a win."
The Giro d'Italia finishes on May 26 in Brescia.
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