Belgium's Bart De Clercq, riding for Omega Pharma, sprang a surprise to win the Tour of Italy seventh stage, a 110km run from Maddaloni to Montevergine di Mercogliano, on Friday. The 24-year-old De Clercq, claimed the most important win of his career, held off a chasing group led by Italian Michele Scarponi at the end of a taxing 17km climb to the 1260m summit finish.
Czech competitor Roman Kreziger took third on a day when temperatures scaled 28 Celcius. Rabobank's Dutch rider Pieter Weening held on to the overall leader's pink jersey while Spain's Alberto Contador finished in the same time as Weening. De Clercq had taken command seven kilometers out to cross the line with a 40- second advantage for his first ever stage win in the Giro.
He commented: "When I attacked I wasn't thinking about winning the stage. The pace wasn't that quick so I made use of that in a tactic devised by my sporting director. I was really suffering in the last two or three kilometers, especially the last one."
He dedicated his win to the memory of his compatriot Wouter Weylandt, who died after a horrible crash on Monday's third stage. "I knew him well enough even if we weren't close friends, we got on well together. Only last Sunday we were chatting away in the peloton," he said.
Scarponi climbed two places into fifth in the overall standings, 14sec behind Weening, who holds a two second cushion over HTC duo Kanstantsin Siutsou and Marco Pinotti, with GRM's Christophe Le Mevel 5-seconds back in fourth. The Italian said: "I would have preferred to win, but we made the mistake of allowing De Clercq to go too far in front, he was courageous, I thought he would have weakened."
Sprinters are favored in Saturday's eighth stage, a 217km run from Sapri to Tropea. Organizers meanwhile confirmed Sunday's stage around Mount Etna would go ahead despite concerns over volcanic activity in the area with ash falling on local roads.