Johann Tschopp won the penultimate stage of the Giro d’Italia at Passa del Tonale with a well-timed attack on the Gavia and a fearless descent down the other side.
The Swiss Bbox Bouygues Telecom rider then had the strength to hold off a spirited late attack by Cadel Evans.
Evans was left it too late to have any chance of getting ahead of Vincenzo Nibali and Michele Scarponi and onto the podium overall, but he did all but seal victory in the points competition.
Basso gritted his teeth to pip Scarponi to third place, pinching an eight-second time bonus. David Arroyo, Basso’s closest challenger, conceded a bit more time and with it any hope of toppling Basso in Sunday’s 15-kilometre time trial in Verona.
In truth, Arroyo was already out of it. The Spaniard is not a noted time triallist and the 51 second lead Basso held already looked more than enough.
After three weeks of excitement and drama, the Giro d’Italia finally ran out of steam. This stage, with the legendary Gavia - the highest point in the race - was supposed to be another epic but it fell flat.
Not only was the racing conservative until the final attack by Evans, but the television pictures were interrupted for most of the ascent of the Gavia because of bad weather.
A big break went clear on one of the early climbs. In it were the likes of Damiano Cunego, Carlos Sastre, Marco Pinotti, Matthew Lloyd and Tschopp.
Alexandre Vinokourov rode across the gap and by the time they reached the Gavia, the lead group was down to just the Kazakh, Sastre, Pinotti, Gilberto Simoni, Tschopp and Lloyd.
On the Gavia, Tschopp and Simoni attacked. It took a while for them to build a lead but gradually they did.
However, there was no fairytale finish to Simoni’s career. The 38-year-old former Giro champion, who won in 2001 and 2003, is retiring after tomorrow’s stage.
Tschopp was not in any mood to be sentimental. He attacked to take the sprint at the top of the Gavia - the Cima Coppi, the prize for the first rider over the top of the Giro’s highest pass - and kept on going.
Simoni was unable to get on terms on the descent and was eventually caught and passed.
Liquigas never looked to be in difficulty. They protected Basso all the way up and then on the way down.
On the drag up to the finish, Evans attacked - one last defiant act from the Australian who has refused to lie down.
He came within 16 seconds of catching Tschopp but it was too late.
However, his attack did break up the chasing group and everyone had to fight all the way to the line. Basso edged out Scarponi for third. Arroyo was fifth.
Basso will clinch his second Giro d’Italia title tomorrow. There is no way he can be toppled in the 15-kilometre time trial in Verona.
The circumstances are very different to four years ago, when Basso thrashed another Spaniard, Jose Enrique Gutierrez by more than nine minutes.
In 2006, Basso climbed like he was on another planet. A month later, he was kicked out of the Tour de France before it started when he was named as a client of Dr Eufamiano Fuentes, the Madrid-based doctor who was at the heart of a blood-doping network. Gutierrez was also a client of Fuentes’s.
This year Basso has appeared all the more human and last week urged his critics to believe in him.
The matter at stake in tomorrow’s time trial is the final place on the podium. Nibali is just a single second clear of fourth-placed Scarponi and will be under pressure to ensure two Liquigas riders are in the top three.
Emotional win for Tschopp
“I have to say that I am really moved, it feels like I am dreaming,” said Tschopp after the stage.
“To win one of the most beautiful stages of the Giro d’Italia. I am thinking of my family and my six-month-old son, Hugo.”
When asked about beating Gilberto Simoni to the Cima Coppi, Tschopp said: “The race is always the race, no one ever gave me gifts in cycling. It was a big thing to pass the Cima Coppi first. I knew he is a huge cyclist, who has won many races.”
After cresting the climb, Tschopp descended with gusto to shake off Simoni. “Sometimes I have crashed on descents, but I don’t feel that I have risked it more than the others,” the Swiss rider said. “I was going with how I know. I raced a lot in cyclo-cross, and that has helped.”
Basso eyeing overall win with caution
“It was a hard day, truly,” said race leader Ivan Basso after the stage.
“It may have been a good show for the fans, with Vino, Sastre, but we had to keep calm. [Liquigas manager Stefano] Zanatta told us today that we had to stay united, so I would not be isolated. There were a few times I was at risk, but my team-mates kept me in the game.
“I don’t feel calm yet with the win, I know the advantage is good, but I prefer wait. I will prepare for the time trial as if I only have a few seconds’ advantage.”
The 2010 Giro d’Italia concludes tomorrow (Sunday, May 30) with a 15km individual time trial in Verona. Stage 21 details>>
Giro d’Italia 2010, stage 20: Bormio – Passa del Tonale, 178km
1. Johann Tschopp (Swi) BBox Bouygues Telecom in 5-26-47
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 16sec
3. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 25sec
4. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli same time
5. David Arroyo (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 41sec
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 43sec
7. John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r at 48sec
8. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 50sec
9. Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini at 57sec
10. Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Caisse d’Epargne at 1-02
11. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana at 1-26
19. Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank at 1-42
20. Charly Wegelius (GB) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 2-13
27. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo at 3-40
30. Dario Cioni (Ita) Team Sky at 6-02
32. Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini at 6-50
58. Steve Cummings (GB) Team Sky at 25-49
72. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Transitions at 31-46
118. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervelo at 37-54
135. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 37-54
Overall classification after stage 20
1. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo in 87-23-00
2. David Arroyo (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 1-15
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 2-56
4. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli at 2-57
5. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 3-47
6. Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank at 7-25
7. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana at 7-31
8. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo at 8-55
9. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Liquigas at 14-06
10. Marco Pinotti (Ita) HTC-Columbia at 15-00
29. Charly Wegelius (GB) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 1-19-46
40. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 1-48-11
55. Steve Cummings (GB) Team Sky at 2-17-32
57. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Transitions at 2-20-12
102. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervelo at 3-34-11
Alexandre Vinokourov leads the escape
Matthew Lloyd in the snow
Johann Tschopp leads Gilberto Simoni on the Gavia
Race leader Ivan Basso
Britain’s Charly Wegelius was 20th on the stage
Cadel Evans attacks
Giro d’Italia 2010: Stage winners
Stage one (ITT): Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky
Stage two: Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions
Stage three: Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quick Step
Stage four (TTT): Liquigas-Doimo
Stage five: Jerome Pineau (Fra) Quick Step
Stage six: Matthew Lloyd (Aus) Omega Pharma-Lotto
Stage seven: Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing
Stage eight: Chris Sorensen (Den) Saxo Bank
Stage nine: Matt Goss (Aus) HTC-Columbia
Stage 10: Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions
Stage 11: Evgeni Petrov (Rus) Katusha
Stage 12: Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Katusha
Stage 13: Manuel Belleti (Ita) Colnago-CSF
Stage 14: Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
Stage 15: Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
Stage 16 (ITT): Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone
Stage 17: Damien Monier (Fra) Cofidis
Stage 18: Andre Greipel (Ger) HTC-Columbia
Stage 19: Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli
Stage 20: Johan Tschopp (Swi) Bbox Bouygues Telecom
Giro d’Italia 2010: Individual wins by country
Great Britain: one
2010 Giro d’Italia coverage in association with Zipvit