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Carapaz on brink of Giro victory as tempers fray on eve of finish

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Croce d'Aune (Italy) (AFP)

Richard Carapaz closed in on his first Giro d'Italia triumph on Saturday after keeping hold of the leader's pink jersey in a tumultuous 20th and penultimate stage that saw Miguel Angel Lopez lashing out at a spectator who knocked him over.

Ecuadorian Carapaz gave nothing to his rivals on the summit finish at Monte Avena after the 193km ride through the northern Dolomites mountains where Astana rider Pello Bilbao snatched the stage victory.

Movistar rider Carapaz, whose expected Giro win would be his first Grand Tour victory, even helped team-mate Mikel Landa in the final climb before the Spaniard lost out to compatriot Bilbao.

Carapaz leads former two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali of Italy by 1min 54sec in the overall standings -- a lead that has never been overtaken in the final time trial stage -- with Landa moving third 2min 53sec adrift at the expense of Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who is 3min 06sec adrift.

"Even if anything can happen in the final time-trial I think that 1min 54sec on Nibali is sufficient," said the 26-year-old Carapaz ahead of Sunday's 17km time-trial around Verona.

It was a heated final day in the mountains.

Roglic picked up a 10-second penalty after a fan pushed him for over 15 seconds along the narrow roads at Croce d'Aune.

Astana rider Angel Lopez lashed out at a spectator who made him crash as he headed into the final climb at Monte Avena.

Television images showed the man cowering on the ground as the furious Colombian, wearing the white jersey as the best young rider, hit him twice.

A clearly frustrated Lopez got back on another bicycle but finished in 18th position, 1min 49sec behind Spanish teammate Bilbao.

But Carapaz was in a generous mood up Monte Avena, the final climb of the Giro over 6.9 km and with a 7.3 percent gradient.

"We've tried to win the stage with Mikel Landa as well as myself to retain the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) but we've missed out by very little," said Carapaz.

"But we're happy with how it went today."

Bilbao's success, his second of this year's Giro after stage seven, was a boost for his Astana outfit after Lopez's mishap.

"My first win was special," he said.

"This second is even better than the first one because it's a big mountain stage. When the GC riders caught us I thought it would be hard but they were tired too," added the Spaniard.

Carapaz, Landa and Lopez were the strongest in the main climb of the day, the Manghen Pass, where they gained up to 15 seconds on their rivals Nibali and Roglic.

A breakaway group of seven riders formed in the final two climbs with French rider Valentin Madouas attacking with 16km to go before being reeled in at the Croce d'Aune.

"I knew that Carapaz would try to give the win to Mikel Landa so I followed the best wheel," said Bilbao.

Carapaz is now poised to become the second rider from the Andes to win the Giro after Colombian Nairo Quintana in 2014.

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