Basso jumps to second overall, Evans makes up half a minute on the Italian, Arroyo still in pink

Stefano Garzelli of Acqua & Sapone, who started the day in 24th position on the Giro d’Italia’s general classification, put in a stunning mountain time trial to win Stage 16 of the race at Plan de Corones this afternoon. However, the real drama happened at the top of the overall standings where strong rides by Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso narrowed the gap to just 3’09” between first and fourth, with young Australian Richie Porte sandwiched between the pair.

It may have been Caisse d’Epargne rider David Arroyo who started today’s time trial last in the race leader’s maglia rosa, but Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport had billed this as round 2 of the battle between Ivan Basso of Liquigas and BMC Racing’s Evans after the Italian had pulled away from the World Champion on the ascent of the Zoncolan on Sunday.

If they continue to slug it out like this, it may take a referee’s decision to separate them by the time the race ends in Verona on Sunday,with Evans putting in the second fastest time of the afternoon to take back 28 seconds from Basso. Certainly, the evidence so far is that neither is going to entertain the slightest thought of throwing in the towel.

However, Arroyo isn’t ready to give up the overall lead just yet, and dug in to remain 2’27” ahead of Basso, who rises to second overall, with the Australian pair of Evans and Porte close behind.

It was a painful day, however, for Cervelo TestTeam’s Carlos Sastre, the highest placed of last year’s Giro finishers to figure in this year’s race, with the Spaniard barely making it inside the top 20 and slipping behind Evans in the general classification.

Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, meanwhile, finished 67th and after falling down the overall standings on Sunday is likely to be using the remainder of the race as further preparation for the Tour de France, although he will doubtless be eyeing a win in Sunday’s closing time trial in Verona.

The 12.9km climb up to Plan de Corones had been one of the most eagerly anticipated stages of this year’s 93rd edition of the race, not least due to its average gradient of 8.4%, hitting a leg-sapping 24% as it approached the summit, and with the last 5km on gravel rather than asphalt.

As it turned out, it didn’t disappoint a huge crowd, estimated at 100,000 – not bad for a weekday – including UCI President Pat McQuaid, Formula 1 driver and Fernando Alonso, rumoured to be starting his own team with compatriot Alberto Contador, and the Slovenian national football team, taking a break from their preparations for next month’s World Cup in South Africa.

With the gradient and gravel roads preventing cars from negotiating the final kilometres of the climb, the riders’ entourage was restricted to a pair of motorcycles each, with fans closing ever closer as the road rose up towards the relative sanity of the barriered section approaching the finish.

This year’s Giro is proving to be one of the most gripping and unpredictable Grand Tours in recent memory, and with more mountains lying in wait later in the week, including the Gavia, there is sure to be further drama ahead.

Stage and race standings to follow

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.