Foligno, Italy - Nacer Bouhanni of France sprinted to victory on the seventh stage of the Giro d'Italia on Friday, while Michael Matthews retained the overall leader's pink jersey.
Bouhanni, who had never won a Grand Tour stage before this year's Giro, edged out Giacomo Nizzolo by less than half a wheel for his second victory in four days.
Luka Mezgec was third, just ahead of Matthews, on another lengthy leg that had two categorized climbs along the 211
kilometers (131 miles) from Frosinone to Foligno.
“It's great to win a second stage. I'm happy for me and for the team. They did an incredible job to keep me out of the wind and then to close the gap on the break,” Bouhanni said. “Mezgec launched the sprint, I was on his wheel. I saw that Matthews and Nizzolo were going on his left. I didn't have a choice, I had to go on his right, along the barriers. Thankfully he didn't move off his line because if he had done I would have crashed for sure.”
Matthews will wear the pink jersey for a sixth day, with the Australian cyclist maintaining his 21-second lead over compatriot Cadel Evans. Rigoberto Uran Uran remained third.
“It was a bit different to what it looked like on paper, more technical than we originally thought,” Matthews said. “The boys put me in the right position for the final sprint but I didn't have the legs to get in front of Bouhanni after yesterday. But it was another great day for the team.”
Orica-GreenEdge riders have worn the pink jersey since the team won the time trial on the opening day.
Pre-race favorite Joaquim Rodriguez withdrew along with his Katusha teammates Giampaolo Caruso and Angel Vicioso after crashing Thursday.
Brett Lancaster also retired before the stage, while Maxime Mederel and Ramon Carretero quit during Friday's ride, leaving 188
riders still in the race.
Of those who were able to continue, five cyclists escaped close to the summit of the first climb.
The early break of Robinson Chalapud, Nathan Haas, Winner Anacona, Bjorn Thurau and Nicola Boem built up a lead of nine minutes. That lead still stood at five minutes going up the final ascent and it appeared as if the others had left it too late to catch up.
However, the peloton upped its pace and began chasing furiously on the final descent as the gap began to drop dramatically. The breakaway riders were caught on the fast run-in to Foligno, 3K (1.9 miles) from the finish.
Tyler Farrar of the United States recovered from a flat tire to power back to the peloton from a long way back, and eventually finished sixth.
This year's Giro honors the 10th anniversary of Marco Pantani's death, and Saturday's stage from Foligno to Montecopiolo will include the Carpegna climb where the famous Italian cyclist used to train.
Pantani won both the Giro and Tour de France in 1998. He was found dead in a hotel room on Valentine's Day in 2004, and a coroner ruled he died from cocaine poisoning.