Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini) delivered on promises to attack race leader Denis Menchov (Rabobank) on the Vesuvio volcano at the end of Friday's Giro d'Italia stage. The Italian's multiple attacks failed to distance the Russian, who leads by 18 seconds going into the race's final two days.
"I put him in trouble, but I was also in trouble," said Di Luca. "I was at my limit and so was Menchov, so we cancelled each other out. It is like that at the end of three-week race."
Di Luca trailed Menchov by 26 seconds heading into the race's final mountain day, which ended with a 13-kilometre climb up Monte Vesuvio. His LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini team led the peloton to the climb's base, where Di Luca was left to distance Menchov.
Di Luca attacked first at 8.5 kilometres remaining, but Menchov marked him. Sensing his time was running out, he accelerated multiple times in the final kilometres (4.5, 2.8 and 1.5 kilometres remaining). He dropped Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone - Caffe Mokambo) and Levi Leipheimer (Astana), but Menchov remained.
He needed to gain time on Menchov to take the race lead and give himself enough cushion heading into the final stage on Sunday. The race ends with a 14.4-kilometre time trial that favours Menchov.
Di Luca sprinted for third place on Vesuvio behind stage winner Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas). The Giro d'Italia awards 20-, 12- and eight-second bonuses for the top three riders. Di Luca took time on Menchov and plans for the same on Saturday's stage to Agnoli, which finishes on a slight uphill.
"It is a good stage with a finish that suites my characteristics. I will have an advantage on the final circuit, I will try to win the race or be there in the sprint."
The win would only put Di Luca in the lead by two seconds, and by his own admission, he needs 40 seconds on Menchov before the time trial.
"I will give the most I have through the time trial without any doubt. Menchov has the advantage, but until that day you can't say."