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Menchov tightens grip

Liquigas rider Franco Pellizotti won yesterday’s 17th stage of the Giro d’Italia as Russia’s Denis Menchov tightened his grip on the leader’s jersey.

Italian Pellizotti was allowed to ride to the stage victory yesterday, an 83km trip between Chieti and up to Blockhous and barring a disaster on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius in Friday’s stage Menchov looks to ride away with overall victory.

The last half-kilometre of Alpe di Siusi aside, where he gapped arch-rival Danilo Di Luca of LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini to claim the fifth stage almost a fortnight ago, Menchov’s riding to date hasn’t been particularly spectacular, exciting, or extraordinary. The Russian doesn’t ride that way. Not equipped with one of the strongest teams at this race – or other Grand Tours he’s ridden or won, for that matter – he rides with his head and his legs, filled to the brim with hardness and natural strength that could provide the foundations for some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

That’s how he rode Wednesday on Blockhaus. ‘The situation as it stands now is a good situation for me,’ Menchov told after Wednesday’s stage.

‘I’m in front on General Classification [Stage 19 to] Vesuvio is the last important stage for us. He [Di Luca] will try something there; my objective is to follow him.’

Fifteeen kilometres out from home, Pellizotti, a danger man but not Menchov’s most serious threat, rode away. Astana’s Lance Armstrong tried to follow but couldn’t. And on a climb that perfectly suited his characteristics, the curly-haired blond stayed away – not only to win the stage, but displacing Cervelo TestTeam’s Carlos Sastre as the current third overall, the Spaniard a surprise loser and dropping to fifth by the day’s end. ‘Two days ago I had a difficult day because of the hot weather, so the rest day was really important for me. Today was good climb to establish a nice rhythm, and I was in good shape,’ said 31-year-old Pellizotti, now a flat two minutes behind the maglia rosa.

‘I knew Armstrong was behind. For a moment, I hesitated [on whether to wait or not]. But it was an easy climb to pedal, and I decided to turn the climb into a time trial, and gave it everything.’

Rabobank’s Menchov has now been in the saddle for 72hrs 28min 24sec and leads Di Luca by 26sec. Pellizotti is up to third, 2min back with Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre 3:28 and 3:30 behind respectively.

Barloworld South Africans John-Lee Augustyn and Robbie Hunter finished 4:25 and 16:45 adrift respectively and in the overall standings Augustyn lies 77th (2:11:35 behind) and Hunter 146th (3:40:24).

‘We need more stages like today, short & exciting and in the end its always the strong guys who win,’ said Hunter. Lance (Armstrong) had a great dig today and did a good job.’