SAN PELLEGRINO TERME, Italy (Reuters) - Italian Eros Capecchi snatched a stage victory from a three-man break in the 18th stage of the Giro d'Italia on Thursday.
Three days before the race ends, the Liquigas rider outpowered Italian Marco Pinotti and Belgium's Kevin Seeldraeyers to claim Italy's second victory in as many stages.
On a short, hilly, high-speed stage, the trio sheared off the front on the only classified climb of the day, the second-category Passo di Ganda.
Spain's Alberto Contador finished safely in the main pack and remained the overall leader after a day he described as "perfect."
Following a technical descent to the spa town of San Pellegrino Terme, Pinotti led out the final sprint but Capecchi, 24, shot past his compatriot to claim the first Grand Tour stage of his career.
"There was a double curve in the last kilometre, so I watched the other two like a hawk because I thought that somebody would be sure to attack," Capecchi told reporters.
"I was waiting for the finale because I'm not fast in a sprint but I knew I was faster than the other two.
"When Pinotti accelerated, I still had a bit of power left and I used it as best I could."
A team mate of overall contender Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, Capecchi said the first part of his own Giro had gone askew because of poor form.
"I came here wanting to give 100 percent for Vincenzo, and was very upset that I couldn't do a better job for the team in the first two weeks of the race.
"But it was only on the second rest day (Monday) that I started feeling in good condition, and today I could prove that to the team and to myself."
Capecchi used the biggest win of his career to pay tribute to Aldo Sassi, a leading cycling coach who died in December.
"I couldn't help thinking about Aldo when I crossed the finish line, and a large part of today's win is due to him."
Contador told reporters: "The first two hours were really fast but after the break went, things calmed down a lot and I got through fine."
Contador faced questions about the announcement by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that they were postponing an appeal hearing against the Spanish cycling federation's decision to clear him for a positive test for the banned drug clenbuterol in last year's Tour de France.
"When the truth has to come out the truth has to come out and in that sense I am very optimistic," the Spaniard said.
"Right now I'm only thinking about the Giro d'Italia," he added. "The Tour is a different race, it's still more than a month away, and I'll think about it when this race is over."
The Giro finishes on Sunday in Milan.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)