Italy's Vincenzo Nibali all but sealed overall victory in the Giro d'Italia, after battling through a snowstorm and sub-zero temperatures to take his second stage win of the race deep in the Dolomite mountains today.
His helmet, bike and race clothes caked in snow, Nibali raised first his right arm and then his left, kissing his wedding ring as he crossed the line in blizzard-like conditions, 17 seconds ahead of Colombia's Fabio Duarte. Colombian Rigoberto Uran was third in Stage 20 of the race.
The winner of Friday's 20 kilometre uphill time-trial, Nibali attacked with 2.5km to go, pounding past snowdrifts lying a metre deep at the side of the narrow road leading to the Tre Cime ski station and brushing aside fans, who came perilously close as they tried to run alongside him.
"I attacked a little early because I knew the last two kilometres were hard, but I had no idea they were that hard," Nibali said, as snow continued to fall heavily.
"The last part of the climb seemed interminable, but this victory gives me a real sense of joy. The snow gave it a kind of epic feeling.
"I wanted to finish off the mountain stages and the race in a good way, leave it all on a high note, and that's what I've done."
With one flat straightforward stage remaining tomorrow, the 28-year-old Sicilian's solo win also increased his overall lead to 4m 43s on Uran, with Australia's Cadel Evans, who struggled on the final climb, dropping back to third.
"After what happened yesterday [when the stage was cancelled due to snow], I wanted to say thank you to the fans for coming to today's stage and waiting for hours in the snow to support us," Nibali added. "Attacking like that was my way of doing that.
"I was worried about the fans getting so close to me, though. They could have knocked me off, but fortunately, I could get through."
Seventh in last year's Giro and almost certain to finish second overall tomorrow, Uran said that he was delighted with the prospect of taking his first Grand Tour podium finish.
"It was a very difficult course today," the Sky rider said. "The cold and snow made it really hard, but I'm very satisfied with what I achieved.
Nibali, meanwhile, is poised to claim the second Grand Tour of his career after winning the Tour of Spain in 2010.
"This is a much more important moment for me than when I won the Vuelta," Nibali said. "But if it wasn't for the Vuelta and my third place here [in the Giro in 2010], I would never have realised what I could achieve in Grand Tours."
The Giro d'Italia finishes tomorrow in Brescia.