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Cortina D’Ampezzo - Giro d'Italia leader Joaquim Rodriguez passed his first major mountain test with flying colours as he won the 17th stage - his second stage win of the race - on Wednesday.
Twice Giro champion Ivan Basso finished second behind the Spanish Katusha rider in the six-rider sprint which decided the mammoth mountain stage from Falzes to Cortina d'Ampezzo, with former race leader Ryder Hesjedal of Canada in third.
There was no time change between the top three in the overall standings, with Rodriguez leading Hesjedal by 30 seconds and Basso by 82 seconds.
Rodriguez said his win was in memory of fellow Catalan bike rider Xavier Tondo, who died a year ago in a freak domestic accident.
“It was very important for me to win today,” Rodriguez, who broke down in tears, told reporters.
“Xavi was a very good friend who'd I'd raced with for a long time as kids, not just as a pro.”
Despite Wednesday's success, Rodriguez acknowledged he would have to do more to increase his overall lead since Hesjedal is expected to make up a lot of time in Sunday's final time trial in Milan.
“If things stay as they are in terms of time, clearly it'll be impossible for me to win the Giro, but also impossible for Basso and for 2011 Giro winner Michele Scarponi,” the Spaniard said.
“I need two minutes on him (Hesjedal) before Sunday. Logically I'm going to have to attack in the mountain stages. Hesjedal's the really big favourite to win overall now.”
Basso and his Liquigas team upped the pace on the relentlessly steep final 9.9km climb of the Passo Giau, shredding the lead group to six by the summit and with Czech Roman Kreuziger, fifth overall before the stage, one of the biggest names to crack.
Following a fast, technical descent to Cortina d'Ampezzo, Basso tried a last kilometre attack, but Rodriguez swept past to claim his second stage win of the 2012 Giro after his uphill win in Assisi on stage 10.
“We've shaken up the overall classification a bit but things have not worked out quite as well as I'd have liked. Hesjedal in particular impressed me,” Basso told reporters. - Reuters