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Nibali extends Giro lead over Evans

ROME (AFP) –

Italian Vincenzo Nibali gets ready for the 14th stage of the 96th Giro d'Italia on May 18, 2013 in Cervere

Italian Vincenzo Nibali gets ready for the 14th stage of the 96th Giro d’Italia on May 18, 2013 in Cervere. Nibali extended his lead over Australia’s Cadel Evans as Mauro Santambrogio won a shortened 14th stage of the Giro d’Italia to claim his maiden win on the race Saturday.

Italian Vincenzo Nibali extended his lead over Australia’s Cadel Evans as Mauro Santambrogio won a shortened 14th stage of the Giro d’Italia to claim his maiden win on the race Saturday.

Nibali, of the Astana team, had launched a decisive attack in the final kilometres and came over the finish line in second place after giving his fellow Italian the nod to take the stage win unhindered.

“I can’t believe it, I came to the Giro to win a stage and have done it,” said Santambrogio, who rides for the modest Vini Fantni team.

Given the “horrible” weather conditions, it will be one he remembers.

“The whole day the weather was horrible. It was freezing cold but thankfully the team rallied behind me.”

Evans, the 2011 Tour de France champion, who started the day 41sec behind Nibali, crossed the finish line 33sec behind and is now 1:26 behind Nibali after the Italian collected a 12-second time bonus.

“It was not my best day,” said Evans, who believes his victory bid is now compromised.

“I just couldn’t react when the attack from Nibali came. I think that has something to do with the last couple of days.

“I hope this is my worst day in the mountains; otherwise to fight for the win will be difficult.”

Italian Mauro Santambrogio wins the 14th stage of the 96th Giro d'Italia on May 18, 2013 in Bardonecchia - Jafferau

Italian Mauro Santambrogio wins the 14th stage of the 96th Giro d’Italia on May 18, 2013 in Bardonecchia – Jafferau.

Saturday’s stage in the high Italian Alps was due to finish in Sestriere, but was shortened by organisers due to fears over cold and wet conditions on the final descent.

As snow and rain fell at high altitude, the finish line was lowered to 1908 metres at Jafferau, where BMC leader Evans and Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky) fell off the pace in a final kilometre which proved just too steep for the duo.

Nibali’s hopes of a maiden Giro win were boosted earlier this week when main rival Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) pulled out due to illness.

After his late attack, the Sicilian now has a lead of over one minute on Evans, and 2:46 on Uran, who has taken the mantle of Sky’s team leader after Wiggins’s retirement from the race.

“It was very cold… a very difficult stage,” said the Italian, who finished third in last year’s Tour de France behind Wiggins and Chris Froome.

“When I attacked, I saw Mauro react and we went off together. All I thought about was taking as much time as possible.”

After the race was shortened by 12km, from 180km to 168km, a four-man group broke from the peloton and went on to build a lead of nearly eight and a half minutes.

They held a four-minute lead at the foot of the final climb, a 7.3km ascent with an average gradient of nine percent.

However they were reeled in one by one as the battle for the stage win and for the pickings in the overall race took hold.

Sunday’s 15th stage, due to finish on the summit of the legendary Galibier climb in France, has also been altered due to poor weather conditions.

The finish line will now be moved from the Galibier’s altitude of 2642 metres to 2301 metres, at the site of a statue commemorating fallen Italian champion Marco Pantani.

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