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By Stephen Farrand
MILAN, Italy, May 29 (Reuters) - Italy's Paolo Savoldelli was crowned winner of the Giro d'Italia on Sunday after three weeks and 3,435 km of hard racing over 20 stages.
|Italy's Paolo Savoldelli, center,
lifts the overall leader's cup he won at the end of the Giro, Tour
of Italy cycling race, in Milan, Italy, Sunday, May 29, 2005. At
left is runne-rup Gilberto Simoni, while at right is third placed
Jose Rujano Guillen, of Venezuela.
(AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
The Discovery Channel rider finished safely in the middle of the peloton on the 120.2 km final stage to Milan, won by Alessandro Petacchi of Italy, but took the winner's pink jersey with the lowest overall time for the race.
Compatriot Gilberto Simoni was second overall 28 seconds behind with Jose Rujano of Venezuela in third 45 seconds back.
It was Savoldelli's second Giro victory after he won in 2002 and the 18th win of his 10-year career.
His winning margin was the sixth lowest in the 88-year history of the Giro d'Italia.
"This victory pays me back for the crashes and injuries that have stopped me racing for the last two years," Savoldelli said.
"People said my bad luck would end and by winning the Giro. It has."
"It was difficult to make a comeback after twice breaking bones and suffering facial injuries but I never gave up."
Savoldelli sealed his overall victory by riding consistently well in the mountain stages and time trials that always decide major stage races.
The Italian won stage 11 to Zoldo Alto in the Dolomite mountains, was third in the stage eight Florence time trial and fourth in the stage 18 time trial to Turin.
He almost lost the Giro to Simoni on Saturday's tough mountain stage to Sestriere but used his descending skills and sharp tactical mind to limit his losses in the final km of the 190-km stage.
"I thought I'd lost the Giro on the steep climb of the Colle delle Finestre near the end of the stage," said Savoldelli.
"Simoni attacked early on the climb but I knew I had to ride at my own pace so that I didn't blow up and lose everything."
"I didn't take too many risks on the descent and fortunately I found some allies on the road to the finish who helped me pull back enough time to seal overall victory."
Savoldelli dedicated his Giro victory to his father-in-law who was seriously injured in a cycling accident two months ago.
"This pink jersey is for my father-in-law Carlo. He was in a coma for a long time after a cycling accident but is slowly recovering. I hope my win helps him make a full recovery," Savoldelli said.
The 32 year-old Bergamo-born rider will be part of Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel team for the Tour de France in July but has made it clear he will sacrifice his own chances to help the Texan retire in glory with a seventh Tour victory.
Updated on Sunday, May 29, 2005 1:37 pm EDT