Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) extended his lead in the Giro d'Italia from 51 seconds to 1:15 but was as prudent and pragmatic as ever, refusing to admit that he secured overall victory before Sunday's final time trial stage.
Basso and his Liquigas-Doimo teammates again controlled the peloton for most of the stage from Bormio to the Passo Tonale and then Basso had the strength to go after Michele Scarponi (Androni) as he tried to chase Cadel Evans (BMC) on the climb to the finish at the summit of the Passo Tonale.
Basso could almost seen the finish line in Verona from the podium on the 1883 metre high pass but refused to say he had won the Giro d'Italia.
"I'm happy. It was a good day and I earned a few seconds on Arroyo, but I'm not going to relax yet, anything can still happen," Basso said in the post-race press conference.
"I've got a good lead but I'm always cautious and don’t want to tempt fate. I'll prepare for the final time trial as if I'm on the same time or 1 sec down overall. I want to have the right focus till the end of he Giro. Then we'll celebrate."
Basso finished third on the 179km stage, 25 seconds behind Johann Tschopp (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and nine seconds behind Cadel Evans (BMC). He took the eight-second time bonus from Scarponi, which meant his teammate Vincenzo Nibali held not to third place overall by a single second ahead of Scarponi.
"It was a very, very difficult day. It was perhaps great to watch but our rivals tried to blow the gruppo apart," he said.
"Vino went with Sastre on the very first climb. Fortunately we did as (directeur sportif) Stefano Zanatta told us to do. We stayed united as long as possible and didn’t panic. It was risky to let Vino go but I had a lot of trust in my teammates. Yet again they all worked hard, especially Alessandro Vanotti, who was a on a great day and did the work of three men."
Basso also had special praise for Nibali. If Basso represents the past and present of Italian cycling, Nibali is the future and the two will ride together for another two years at Liquigas in 2011 and 2012.
Basso confirmed that he had wanted to wait for his younger teammate on the final climb when Evans and then Scarponi attacked.
"I have to thank Vincenzo for what he's done for me in this Giro. I wanted to take him up to Scarponi but when he couldn't do it, I went to gain more time on Arroyo and to take the time bonus from Scarponi to help Vincenzo. I'm glad he's still third overall and I'm sure he'll
do a great time trial. I think he can finish third overall on so on the podium with me. It'd be a great way for Liquigas to finish the Giro."