Tour de France champion Cadel Evans readily admitted his form was not as good as it was a year ago after struggling in the Tirreno-Adriatico race.
Defending his title in the Italian race, Evans finished a distant 10 minutes and 36 seconds behind winner Vincenzo Nibali on the toughest stage of the week-long event on Sunday.
Italian Nibali clocked 5hr 46min 33sec over the 196km fifth stage from Martinsicuro to snow-covered Prati di Tivo, a ski resort in central Italy.
The gruelling ride left BMC team star Evans languishing in 36th place overall, 11min 17sec behind the race leader, 40-year-old American Chris Horner.
“I didn’t have the legs today, so I’ll try another day,” Evans said.
“I don’t have the same form as last year.”
Countryman Cameron Meyer came in 1min 22sec behind Nibali, to be 10th in the overall standings, 1min 23sec behind Horner, for new Australian team GreenEDGE.
After Horner made an initial acceleration, Nibali attacked with four kilometres to go and immediately opened up a gap over the five-man chase group.
Roman Kreuziger of the Czech Republic crossed second, 16 seconds behind, and Horner was third at the line with the same time.
The race ends on Tuesday with a 9.3km individual time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto, on the Adriatic coast.
“Kreuziger and I are very close in the standings and it’s going to be a really great battle in Tuesday’s time trial,” Horner said. “I think either of us can win.”
It was the second victory this season for Nibali, a Sicilian who won the Spanish Vuelta in 2010 and finished second in last year’s Giro d’Italia after Alberto Contador’s win was scratched for doping.
Many riders use the coast-to-coast race as a warmup for the Milan-San Remo, the season’s opening single-day classic next Saturday.
Italy’s Alessandro Petacchi, the 2005 winner in San Remo, withdrew midway through Sunday’s stage due to apparent exhaustion.
– with AP