Fabio Aru (Astana) missed out on the stage victory at the summit of Cima Grappa but the 23-year-old Italian celebrated after the stage, knowing his impressive ride in the 26.8km cronoscalata had almost certainly secured him a place on the final podium in Trieste on Sunday.
Italian cycling has been in agony in recent months, with only Vincenzo Nibali showing signs of being able to compete against the best in the world in stage races. Now Aru is the tifosi's new hero and the heir to Nibali's crown.
Aru finished seventeen seconds slower than Nairo Quintana (Movistar) but his excellent performance distanced podium rivals Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Aru is now third overall behind Quintana, with Uran only 41 seconds ahead of him. Rolland slipped to fourth, 1:38 down on the young Sardinian.
"It was a huge effort, I was right at my limits for an hour. I'm tired now but obviously very happy," he said after waving to the Sardinian fans who had also climbed Cima Grappa to cheer him on.
I never thought I'd be on the podium at the Giro d'Italia. I've worked hard all winter and made a lot of sacrifices and so it's paid off. But doing so well is new to me. It's been great to do so well in front of my fans, family and girlfriend from Sardinia. That gave me some extra strength and motivation on the climb today."
Too early to celebrate
The Italian media was ready to celebrate Aru's third place overall and even built up hopes that he could try to move past Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) on the steep slopes of Monte Zoncolan on Saturday. Aru reminded them that the Giro d'Italia ends in Trieste on Sunday, not today.
"I'm young but I've learned that stage races aren’t over until you cross the line on the final day, so you've always got to be careful," he said.
"I'm really happy for this result but I've got to stayed focused for tomorrow's finish on Monte Zoncolan. It's a legendary climb but it's also very hard. We've got some suffering left to get through."
Yet he did not rule out trying to crack Uran and take second overall.
"Uran is a great rider. I'll give my best and go flat out. We'll see what happens and see the final result on Sunday."
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