Belgium's Gilbert wins stage

Updated: May 30, 2009, 4:21 PM ET
Associated Press

ANAGNI, Italy -- With only a stage to go and the title all but his, Denis Menchov is not quite ready to stroll through the last leg of the Giro d'Italia.

The Russian added two more seconds to his overall lead in Saturday's next-to-last stage. Danilo Di Luca, his closest rival, understands he will not catch him.

"I can only say well done to Menchov," he said. "He was the strongest in the time trial and one of the strongest on the climbs, so he deserves to win the Giro."

Menchov finished ahead of Di Luca in a mid-race sprint and leads the Italian by 20 seconds entering Sunday's final time trial in Rome.

"I can't say I've won until I cross the finish line in Rome," Menchov said. "I don't have three minutes, so I can't relax and go for a stroll. The times are tight, so I'll be going flat out in the time trial."

Philippe Gilbert of Belgium won the 20th stage in a two-way sprint after a late breakaway.

Lance Armstrong dropped back shortly before the finish as riders completed a circuit around Anagni twice. The seven-time Tour de France winner crossed 1:38 behind and remained 12th overall, but his gap behind Menchov increased to 15:04.

"Hats off to Menchov today," Armstrong wrote on his Twitter feed. "Showed some serious class taking those bonus seconds when everyone expected Di Luca to win them easily."

Levi Leipheimer, Armstrong's Astana teammate, remained sixth overall.

Menchov picked Leipheimer as his favorite for the time trial, but perhaps he wasn't aware that the American was devouring a large pizza after Saturday's stage, likely a sign that Leipheimer is already treating the race as finished.

Di Luca had designs on winning Saturday's stage, which featured an uphill finish that suited him. But the 2007 Giro winner appeared to lose his inspiration when Menchov finished ahead of him in the mid-stage sprint.

Alessandro Petacchi, Di Luca's LPR teammate, won the sprint, with Menchov second and Di Luca third.

"I can't remember the last time I sprinted like that," Menchov said. "Maybe it was the first time in my pro career that I sprinted for the bonus. I hope I don't have to do it again."

Mid-race sprints at the Giro are rewarded with time bonuses of six, four and two seconds to the top three finishers.

"I think gaining time was a psychological blow," Menchov said. "I don't usually go for sprints, but if they decided to go to war, I had to do it as well. And it's good to get it before the time trial."

Gilbert covered the 126 miles from Naples to Anagni in 4 hours, 30 minutes, 7 seconds. It was the Belgian's first stage victory this year. He won the Paris-Tours single-day classic last year with a similar late breakaway.

Thomas Voeckler of France finished second, two seconds behind, and Stefano Garzelli of Italy was third, seven seconds back. Menchov and Di Luca both finished with the main pack, also seven seconds behind.

Franco Pellizotti of Italy remained third overall, although his deficit increased by four seconds -- to 1 minute, 43 seconds behind Menchov.

Menchov is considered a better time trialer than Di Luca and it would take an enormous effort from Di Luca and a bad day from Menchov to change the standings.

Menchov won the 38-mile time trial in Stage 12 and Di Luca finished sixth, 1:54 behind. Sunday's 9-mile race against the clock will start and finish in front of the Colosseum and pass in front of the Vatican.

"Anything could happen in the time trial," Di Luca said. "The gap is small. It's a special course, very technical, but Menchov has shown he is strong."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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