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Gilbert’s Giro joy as tour winds down

Twenty-one-year-old Philippe Gilbert won the twentieth and penultimate stage of the 92nd Giro d’Italia Saturday.

The Silence-Lotto rider used a heady combination of strength, timing and cunning to foil all the sprinters’ plans on the 203-kilometre stage between Napoli and Anagni.

BBox Bouygues Telecom’s Thomas Voeckler came in two seconds behind Gilbert, with Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone – Caffe Mokambo) taking the bunch sprint for third, seven seconds behind Gilbert.

‘ I began the Giro with the ambition to win one stage,’ Gilbert told, but later revealed he was close to quitting, spurred on by his Italian team manager Roberto Damiani.

‘ I was really tired after the mountain stages. After, I got better, then I got worse, and it was like this for close to 10 days. I said to myself that maybe it’s time to go home. It was never easy for me, but I stayed in the race, and now I’m really happy I did.

‘I saw on the first lap [around Anagni] it was a good moment to attack, and I attacked in the same place,’ Gilbert said of his perfectly-timed move, who took flight a kilometre and a half from the line and never looked back.

Largely a consequence of Gilbert’s race-winning move and the attacks before that – but also a testament to the maglia rosa’s towering strength – LPR’s Danilo Di Luca just could not get away in what was his last-chance saloon, the pair of arch-rivals finishing right next to each other in 11th and 12th, respectively.

It’s been like that the past eight days.

Saturday being the final opportunity to steal time away from Rabobank’s Denis Menchov, it must have been a case of reality bites hard for Di Luca. But even before he crossed the line dejected in Anagni’s Viale Roma, the top two riders on the classifica generale fought tooth-and-nail for the last bonus seconds.

In the end, the Russian did enough to beat Di Luca for second place and extended his overall lead to 20 seconds – a lead that will almost certainly grow after Sunday’s 14.4km time trial in Rome, where, after 3,456.5 kilometres, the Centenary Giro will end.

John-Lee Augustyn placed 131st, 7min 55sec down with fellow South African Robbie Hunter 146th (13:28). The Barloworld riders are 77th and 153rd respectively in the general classification (2hr 29min 19sec and 4:10:30 back )