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Pieter Weening (Rabobank) pulls on the pink jersey
Dutchman takes stage and jersey in Umbria
Weening announced himself in the big time with stage victory at the 2005 Tour de France, when he edged out Andreas Klöden in a tense two-man sprint in Gerardmer. He has struggled to hit such heights since, and he modestly explained that as a jack of many trades, it can be difficult to find the opportunity to win.
"For riders like me it's not easy to win races," he said. "I have to get it in stages like this. Once in a while, when you have good legs and the perfect parcours for you, then it's possible."
Weening's attack came on the final section of dirt road, first in the company of John Gadret (Ag2r-La Mondiale), and then by himself for the last 9km. He explained that the nature of the route dictated that it was necessary to stay at the front.
"It was a really tough day," he said. "I knew already before that the best defence was attack. If you are a little bit at the back there is a lot of dust and you don't see the road perfectly."
In spite of his smooth collaboration with Gadret, Weening opted to go it alone in over the last, paved kilometres ahead of the leg-stinging haul up to Orvieto. Then, with the leading group closing fast behind under impetus from Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), he made a last, huge effort to ensure he stayed clear.
"We worked very well together, but the final I chose to attack on my own. I was still not sure of the victory with the last steep climb," he said. "On the last part of the climb I saw it was getting a little bit flatter. I saw I had a few seconds, so I went on the big ring and the big gear."
Weening now holds the maglia rosa, two seconds clear of HTC-Highroad duo Marco Pinotti and Kanstantin Sivtsov. While he acknowledged that it will be difficult to defend his lead as the mountains loom on the horizon, his Rabobank team will seek to hold the jersey as long as it can.
"It's not like every year we've got a pink jersey in our team, so for sure we'll try to defend it," he said.
The stage to Orvieto saw the peloton return to racing for the first time since Wouter Weylandt's fatal accident on Monday, and Weening remembered the late Belgian at his press conference.
"A few days ago, it was a really terrible day for cycling," he said. "It was the first time I saw something like that happen in my career, and I hope it will be the last time and we never see something like that again.
Wednesday's stage saw the peloton tackle some very dangerous descents and unmade roads, with a number of riders falling, including Weening's teammate Tom Jelte Slagter, and he admitted that the route had posed certain risks.
"I cannot complain now because I won this stage, but when you see it in the schedule before you think maybe it's going to be a tough one," he said. "For sure it was dangerous but still for the dirt roads, the roads were good, but it's always risky."
Slagter was taken to hospital after his heavy fall, but scans revealed no injuries to his brain. The Dutchman suffered a fractured jaw and will stay in hospital in Orvieto overnight for further observation.