Mauro Santambrogio took the victory on stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia but overall leader Vincenzo Nibali was the big winner as the poor weather dominated the day.
Organisers were forced to remove the day’s major climb as snow, rain and fog hit, but Santambrogio and Nibali emerged from the mist at the mountain-top finish after launching a late attack from the peloton to reel in the remnants of an early breakaway.
Nibali was content to follow the Vini Fantini-Selle Italia rider across the line, knowing that those closest to him in the GC standings were far behind down the road, leaving Santambrogio to claim his first-ever Grand Tour stage victory.
Cadel Evans, who began the day 41 seconds behind Nibali in second place, crossed the line 33 seconds later, while Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran also lost time as he finished 30 seconds back.
With the bonus seconds for high-placed finishers factored in, that leaves BMC’s Evans second, one minute and 26 seconds down in the general classification, while Uran dropped to two minutes and 46 seconds back in third.
The stage win saw Santambrogio put himself in the overall discussion too, as he moved from sixth in the GC to fourth, just one second behind Uran.
But Nibali, who finished third and second the last two times he entered the Giro is firmly on course to win his home country’s biggest cycling race for the first time.
There had been little surprise earlier in the day when organisers confirmed they had been forced to divert the course around the category-two climb to Sestriere due to the continuing poor weather, extending the distance from 168 kilometres to 180km.
Katusha’s Luca Paolini, a former wearer of the leader’s pink jersey, Bardiani’s Sonny Colbrelli, Lampre’s Daniele Petropelli and Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Matteo Trentin led the early breakaway and had forged a lead of almost ten minutes, knowing they would need plenty of time in hand if they were to stay ahead on the final climb.
As the race moved into the final 10km it still looked as if the stage winner would come from that group but the peloton was closing fast and several riders launched attacks to try to make up ground.
With the leaders in sight, Nibali made his move late with barely a kilometre left and Santambrogio went with the Astana man. The pair came through the fog alone before Carlos Betancur finished third, eight seconds back, and then came the long wait for Samuel Sanchez Euskaltel, Uran and Evans to cross the line.
Robert Gesink and Michele Scarponi, the 2011 Giro winner, had begun the day fourth and fifth respectively in the GC standings, but their challenges suffered on the final climb as they finished well off the pace.
Scarponi held fifth but fell three minutes 53 seconds back while Gesink disappeared from the top ten all together.
Today’s 15th stage was scheduled to be a 149km run to the famous Col du Galibier climb but major changes are expected due to the poor weather with the Galibier expected to be removed.
The Giro ends next Sunday in Brescia.