Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) kept the race leader's fuchsia jersey for another day at the Giro del Trentino and now faces one last challenge: limiting his losses to Kanstantin Siutsou, Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali on the final climb to Sega.
The friendly Frenchman finished safely in the peloton and took advantage of Vini Fantini-Selle Italia and Team Sky leading the chase of the break. He leads Siutsou by 3:19.Wiggins is at 3:48 and Nibali is at 3:57.
Friday's last stage is 168km long with a nine kilometre climb after 120km and then the much tougher 16.6km climb up to Sega di Ala, near Lake Garda. It has an average gradient of 8%, with sections at 12% and 14% before easing slightly in the finale.
It is difficult to predict what will happen on the climb. Nibali might want to save himself for Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It'll be curious to see if Wiggins shows his hand. He might try to distance Nibali and land a psychological blow before the Giro d'Italia. If Nibali and Wiggins don't face off, Siutsou could take a deserved win after working hard to recover from his fractured tibia in last year's Tour de France.
"It was a good day for me. I just hope it will be even better tomorrow," Bouet said.
"The final climb is very steep. I think Siutsou will struggle more than the lighter climbers like Wiggins and the Astana guys: Nibali, Aru and Dyachenko.
"I've still got three minutes. It's possible if I've got the form I had three weeks ago. I feel good and I hope to be better tomorrow than I was today."
Bouet lost team leader Domenico Pozzovivo after the Italian climber crashed early during the stage. After the first climb of the stage he had just three teammates with him and could be isolated in the finale on Friday.
"We can only try and follow a strategy like today. We forced Vini Fantini and Sky to work so I could stay in the peloton. It'd be good if the same thing happens tomorrow and then I can save myself for he climb to the finish," he said.
"Whatever happens we've had a good race. We've won a stage and had three days in the jersey. I have to thank my teammates for their support."
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