Italian Eros Capecchi won a sprint finish to take the 18th stage of the Giro d'Italia here on Thursday as Spaniard Alberto Contador swatted aside lingering legal clouds over last year's doping controversy to retain the leader's pink jersey. It is the first Giro success for the 24-year-old Liquigas rider, who crossed ahead of Italian Marco Pinotti and Belgian Kevin Seeldrayers in 3:20:38 after the 151km ride from Morbegno to San Pellegrino Terme, north of Bergamo.
Contador now has a 4:58 lead over two Italians - Michele Scarponi of Lampre with Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali 47-second further back three days from the denouement in Milan. The three-time Tour de France champion was also in the news away from the circuit as his defense team were Thursday granted a delay of June's doping hearing before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) relating to his doping case going back to last year's Tour.
The doping case concerning Contador was due to be heard before CAS over three days in Lausanne from June 6-8 in order to have the decision before the start of the Tour de France on July 2. But CAS announced Thursday that it had "accepted to postpone the hearing in this matter in order to give to all parties concerned reasonable time to prepare for such hearing and to guarantee the participation in person of witnesses and experts".
The delay surprised Tour organizers, however."We hope that a decision will be handed down before the (Tour) start," Tour director Christian Prudhomme told AFP. "We are surprised as the CAS had several times announced that the decision would be handed down beforehand," said Prudhomme, anxious to see the matter finally cleared up to avoid having the controversy still looming over the race start.
Despite the legal cloud hanging over him Contador hopes to be able to concentrate on becoming the first rider since 1998 to complete a Giro-Tour double and he says he is concentrating purely on racing to Italian glory.
"I do not think now about the Tour or other races. My only thought now is victory in the Giro in Milan and my only thought is the Giro d'Italia until Sunday evening," he said. Regarding the CAS delay he said: "They are just my lawyers that deal with the CAS. I am thinking about riding - I'm calm because I have a clear conscience."
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and world's cycling's governing body (UCI) are appealing the Spanish cycling federation's (RFEC) decision to acquit Contador over a failed doping case after he tested positive for a tiny amount of the banned muscle-building substance clenbuterol during last July's Tour.
For legendary Belgian champion Eddy Merckx, Contador will be "the number one favorite" for the Tour assuming he is at the start line. Although "on the Tour he will have more rivals" than at the Giro "he will be the number one favorite", five-time Tour champion and three-time Giro-Tour double winner Merckx told RAI television.
Friday's 19th stage is over 209km from Bergamo to Macugnaga.
Giro d'Italia Stage 18
1. Eros Capecchi (ITA/LIQ) 3:20:38
2. Marco Pinotti (ITA/HTC) @ s.t.
3. Kevin Seeldraeyers (BEL/QST) s.t.
4. Gianluca Brambilla (ITA/COG) @ 1:20
5. Paolo Tiralongo (ITA/AST) @ s.t
6. Dario Cataldo (ITA/QST) @ 2:49
7. Alberto Losada (ESP/KAT) @ 3:46
8. Russell Downing (ENG/SKY) @ 4:34
9. Oscar Gatto (ITA/FAR) @ s.t.
10. Jan Bakelants (BEL/OLO)
General Classification After Stage 18
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) 71:45:09
2. Michele Scarponi (ITA/LAM) @ 4:58
3. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/LIQ) @ 5:45
4. John Gadret (FRA/ALM) @ 7:35
5. Kanstantsin Siutsou (BLR/HTC) @ 9:12
6. Jose Rujano Guillen (VEN/AND) @ 9:18
7. Mikel Nieve (ESP/EUS) @ 9:22
8. Denis Menchov (RUS/GEO) @ 9:38
9. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/AST) @ 9:47
10. Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) @ 10:25