COL DU GALIBIER, France (AP) — A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier gave Giovanni Visconti the victory in a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia on Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead.
Atrocious weather conditions once again altered the race course and heavy snow fell at the finish as Visconti won in a time of 4 hours, 40 minutes, 52 seconds, beating Carlos Betancur and Przemyslaw Niemiec by 42 seconds.
Nibali, who finished third and second in his two previous Giro d'Italia races, maintained his 1:26 lead over Cadel Evans.
Saturday's leg was changed because of avalanche threats and Sunday's leg was also affected by the sub-zero temperatures, with the final 2.7 miles up the famous Galibier removed.
The stage instead finished at the monument to deceased Italian cyclist Marco Pantani, whose extraordinary climb up the Galibier ultimately enabled him to win the 1998 Tour de France.
It was a superb ride from Visconti, who was part of an early move before dropping his fellow riders on the Col du Telegraphe.
"Maybe Marco Pantani gave me a helping hand to win this stage, seeing as we were born on the same day," a tearful Visconti said. "I'm coming off the back of a very difficult year and a half. I've been chasing a day like today for months."
Visconti, a three-time Italian cycling champion, was banned for three months and fined $13,000 at the end of last year for seeing banned physician Michele Ferrari.
His ban was backdated to Oct. 8 but expired on Jan. 7, meaning he didn't miss any races.
The race was neutralized on the category-1 climb up the Col du Mont Cenis and across into France, in what appeared to be a demonstration of solidarity among riders. Everyone rode at the same pace through the snow-filled landscapes.
Pieter Weening broke clear on the descent and built a lead of about three minutes on the peloton, with a chasing group of six riders attempting to bridge the gap.
The Dutchman was caught by the chasers and they had an advantage of more than six minutes in approaching the Telegraphe, although the gap had dropped to little more than two minutes at the start of the category-2 climb.
Visconti made his move more than 12.5 miles from the finish and built a lead of nearly two minutes.
That advantage was eroded by Weening, Stefano Pirazzi and Matteo Rabottini as Visconti looked to be struggling at the start of the Galibier. But the 30-year-old Italian dug deep and stretched his lead again.
Visconti held on in the final two-thirds of a mile — which had a gradient of 11 percent — to claim a first Grand Tour stage victory.
Monday is a rest day, which will be welcomed after two tough mountain stages in awful conditions.
The Giro starts again Tuesday with a hilly 148-mile route from Valloire, France, to Ivrea.
The race ends May 26 in Brescia.