Scarponi wins stage; USA's Pate third
BENEVENTO, Italy -- Michele Scarponi of Italy won the 18th stage of the Giro d'Italia on Thursday, while overall leader Denis Menchov of Russia drew a day closer to victory.
Scarponi, who rides for the Diquigiovanni team, won in a sprint after a long breakaway. He was timed in 4 hours, 7 minutes, 41 seconds over the 113-mile course from Sulmona to Benevento.
Felix Rafael Cardenas of Colombia finished second and Danny Pate of the United States was third, both with the same time as Scarponi.
"It was a pretty comfortable sprint," Scarponi said. "I even had time to zip up my jersey."
All the overall leaders -- as well as seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong -- crossed with the main pack, 3:37 after Scarponi. Menchov retained a 26-second lead over Danilo Di Luca in the overall standings, with Franco Pellizotti third, 2:00 back. Armstrong remained 12th overall, 12:17 behind Menchov
Menchov could virtually seal the Giro with a strong showing in the race's final uphill finish Friday to Mount Vesuvius. The Giro ends Sunday with a short individual time trial in Rome.
"I know tomorrow is an important day," Menchov said. "I feel good, I'm confident."
Menchov's Rabobank team confirmed it has been contacted by Austrian authorities for questioning about a blood doping case. Menchov said he has nothing to hide from prosecutors.
"I don't have any problem. If they want to, after the race we'll find a time," Menchov said.
Scarponi also won the sixth stage in Mayrhofen Im Zillertal, Austria, and the Tirreno-Adriatico race in March -- his first victory since serving an 18-month ban for involvement in the Spanish doping scandal Operation Puerto.
Scarponi was part of a 25-man breakaway that left the main pack behind midway through the stage. The breakaway split shortly before the finish and Scarponi won a four-man sprint for the victory. Scarponi averaged a relatively fast 27 mph.
The stage traveled southward from Sulmona in the Abruzzo region. After a short climb and a rapid descent, the race crossed into the Campagna region and concluded with a short turn-filled circuit through Benevento.
It rained for a half hour at the start of the stage. The day's racing ended under partly cloudy skies in relatively cool conditions, unlike the oppressive heat earlier in the week.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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