Boassen Hagen Wins Giro Stage 7, While Di Luca Still In Pink Jersey

CHIAVENNA, Italy, May 15, 2009 (AFP) – Boasson Hagen of Norway, riding for Columbia, won the seventh stage of the Tour of Italy on Friday at Chiavenna, with LPR’s Danilo Di Luca retaining the leader’s pink jersey.

Hagen emerged the winner from a five-man late escape over the final 20 kilometres launched coming off the Passo Maloja climb to win the 244km rain-hit stage from Innsbruck as the race came back over the border from Austria.

The win, his first in Italy, was an early birthday present for the Norwegian, who turns 22 on Sunday.

South African Robert Hunter came in second ahead of Russian Pavel Brutt with Italians Davide Vigano and Alessandro Bertolini completing the top five on the day.

Bertolini had made a break going into the final handful of kilometres and established a one-minute lead on the nerve-wracking descent towards Chiavenna – but he was reined in before Hagen just stole it ahead of Brutt.

Four riders made an early move just outside Innsbruck as Mauro Facci, Bartosz Huzarski, Serguei Klimov and Vladimir Isaichev raced nine minutes clear by the 24km mark and they held on until the final climb as the rain made the conditions increasingly slippery.

Bertolini tried in vain to anticipate the sprint as Brutt and jockeyed for supremacy over the final dozen kilometres and made for the line.

Winner of last month’s Gand-Wevelge race, Hagen scored his first Giro stage success just 24 hours after he placed second behind Michele Scarponi in the sixth stage to Mayrhofen im Zillertal.

Saturday’s eighth stage is a 209 km affair from Morbegno to Bergamo.

Meanwhile, Lance Armstrong’s Astana team admitted on Friday they have been forced into desperate measures in a bid to publicise a never-ending financial dispute with their key sponsors.

Seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong and his Astana teammates started the Tour of Italy’s seventh stage with new shirts and the name of key sponsor, Astana, virtually blocked out.

Currently one of the most successful teams in the peloton, Astana face an uncertain future following reports their Kazakh sponsors have failed to pay team wages several times this year.