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Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) conceded time to both Contador and Nibali on the day, but remains in second overall.
Close battle between the Italians in the final stages of the race
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) were again the best of the rest behind Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) in the Nevegal stage 16 mountain time trial, as they continue to fight for second place on the final Giro d'Italia podium.
They probably know that Contador could be disqualified from the Giro results if he is suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in June, but are more likely fighting for the bragging rights as the best rider, and best Italian, behind Contador at the Giro.
Nibali finished second in the mountain time trial, 34 seconds slower than Contador but four seconds faster than Scarponi. That cut his gap on Scarponi slightly and he is now 47 seconds behind his Italian rival.
"I did my best but Contador's got an extra gear. I honestly thought I'd done enough to win it but all I can say to him chapeau," Nibali said.
"I rode well and felt good. I used the right gear and the right equipment. But when someone is that good, there's not much you can do. I tried to gain a few seconds on the first part, on the descent, and then I paced myself well and kept trying to accelerate again and again. I don't think I could have done any better."
"Alberto is unbeatable for the moment, but I just hope that with some hard work there's a chance that I can close the gap on him in the future."
Scarponi looks to Sestriere mountain stage
Scarponi knows he has to defend his lead on Nibali and perhaps even extend it before the final time trial in Milan, where Nibali could pull back more than a minute.
Stage 17 to Tirano and stage 18 to San Pellegrino Terme near Bergamo include major climbs but are unlikely to change the overall standings. Scarponi could gain time on the mountain finish at Macugnaga on stage 19 but he has more of a chance on Saturday's 242km mountain stage to Sestriere that includes the dirt climb of the Colle delle Finestre.
"I gave it everything in the time trial but I wasn't at my best," Scarponi said after recovering from a huge effort that left him hanging on to his soigneur immediately after the finish.
"I didn't have the legs in the final two kilometres, when I needed to pick up the speed and go hard."
"But I have to be satisfied with my Giro so far and second place overall. I know Nibali wants to take it from me, but I also know that final mountain stage to Sestriere suits me."