Michael Rogers took a solo victory on the feared Monte Zoncolan as Nairo Quintana locked up the pink jersey on the penultimate stage of the Giro d’Italia.
The 34-year-old Rogers benefited from a controversial incident inside the final three kilometres as he battled with Francesco Bongiorno. A fan tried to give the young Italian a helping hand but succeeded only in pushing him into Rogers’ back wheel.
Bongiorno had to step off just for a second, allowing Tinkoff-Saxo rider Rogers to race away to a second stage win on this Giro – a little over a month after the former Team Sky rider returned to competition after being cleared of a doping offence.
Bardiani rider Bongiorno lost so much momentum he eventually finished third on the stage with Androni Giocattoli’s Franco Pellizotti coming through for second place.
After an afternoon of incredibly hard work, Rogers told Eurosport: “It’s really worth it. It’s amazing. It’s always been a dream of mine to win a mountaintop finish like that. Monte Zoncolan is a great climb and to win like that is amazing.
“It’s steep, it’s one hell of a climb but it makes it all the more better. These climbs, Zoncolan, Stelvio and Gavia are huge climbs and to win is every cyclist’s dream.”
A little over five minutes behind Rogers, Movistar’s Quintana crossed the line with general classification rival Rigoberto Uran just behind him to assure the 24-year-old Colombian, second in last year’s Tour de France, of overall victory in his first Giro.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Uran, who finished second in the 2013 Giro when racing for Team Sky, had to settle for being runner-up once again while young Italian Fabio Aru did enough to claim third place on the podium for the Astana team ahead of Sunday’s final run into Trieste.
This brutal penultimate stage to a testing Giro saw 20 riders go up the road in the early breakaway.
Rogers was accompanied by his team-mate Nicolas Roche, while Sky’s Daniel Cataldo, a regular in this Giro’s breakaways, was present once more.
The group began the climb of the Monte Zoncolan with an advantage of around seven and a half minutes but the group soon fractured as the hardest mountain in professional cycling took its toll.
The riders passed under a banner labelled ‘le porte degli inferno’ - ‘the gates of hell’ - and it was no joke as the final 10 kilometres of the stage sent the riders up gradients reaching 22 per cent.
Rogers, Bongiorno and Pellizotti made their move with around five and a half kilometres to go, but Pellizotti could not keep up.
It was a two-horse race until the spectator’s unfortunate intervention, but Rogers left no doubt about it from then on as he raced clear.