AFP - Russian Denis Menchov won an uphill sprint to claim the fifth stage of the Tour of Italy over 125km from San Martino di Castrozza to Alpe di Siusi on Wednesday as second-placed Danilo Di Luca took the leader's pink jersey.
On a relatively short stage, that ended with a punishing 25km climb up to Alpe di Siusi, seven riders arrived at the final kilometre together with favourite Ivan Basso leading them.
Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre attacked first but Rabobank's Menchov surged past him with Di Luca of LPR struggling to keep his wheel.
Di Luca finished two seconds back but crucially three seconds ahead of third-placed Thomas Lovkvist, the pink jersey wearer on the day.
The Italian had only needed to make up two seconds on the Swede and coupled with the time bonus he received for finishing second, he did just enough to claim the leader's jersey by five seconds.
Record seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong suffered on the final climb and finished just under three minutes back.
The 37-year-old Texan admitted he wasn't expecting much more from the day.
"I'm definitely a little tired, it's a hard climb and we knew that we'd be behind," he told Rai TV.
"We just said ride tempo and try to limit the losses. I thought it may be two minutes but it's closer to three minutes but I'm ok with that.
"I've always said the first half is not going to be mine, I've still not got my condition back after my accident and I can't expect to be at the front."
Armstrong was not the only one of the favourites to be dropped on the climb as Basso's Liquigas team set a furious pace.
Sylvester Szmyd did the most damage once the race entered the final 10km, the most punishing part of the climb.
Armstrong dropped off but so too did 2000 Tour of Italy winner Stefano Garzelli as well as 2004 champion Damiano Cunego and Maurizio Bruseghin.
When Szmyd dropped off with 4km left Basso took over the pace and he immediately thinned the field, with his own team-mate Franco Pellizotti among the victims.
With 2km to go the leaders were down to a select seven with Lovkvist starting to lose touch but with no-one willing to help Basso with the pace-setting, they slowed allowing Lovkvist to stay in touch.
Four more riders had also got within touching distance by the time the leaders reached the final kilometre.
That sparked Sastre's attack but he simply could not match the burst put in by Menchov or Di Luca.
Basso finished fourth with Levi Leipheimer, Armstrong's Astana team-mate in fifth.
"It was hard, Ivan was strong but when Di Luca and Menchov (attacked) they can go so fast, I can't jump with Di Luca, he's very explosive," said Leipheimer, who is now fourth overall.
He also praised team-mate Armstrong, who broke his collar-bone in March at the Tour of Castilla e Leon and had been a doubt for the Giro.
"I think he's doing very well. I saw him two weeks ago and he's much better now, I think he's content."
Australian Michael Rogers finished ninth on the stage and is third overall while Basso is up to sixth on the general classification, one place behind Menchov and one ahead of Sastre.