TURIN, Italy (AFP) - Astana's Vincenzo Nibali secured his second Giro d'Italia triumph on Sunday (May 29) after topping a dramatic 99th edition that saw key rival Steven Kruijswijk agonisingly crash during the final stages.
Germany's Nikias Arndt, of the Giant team, celebrated winning the final stage into Turin although it came only after Giacomo Nizzolo, of the Trek team, was stripped of victory by race judges who ruled the Italian had hampered other riders by deviating from his sprint line.
Nibali, who won the Giro for the first time in 2013, becomes the 69th Italian in 99 editions to win the race for the pink jersey and celebrated by riding into Turin on a metallic-pink bike surrounded by his Astana teammates.
"It's an amazing feeling to ride into Turin with all my teammates like this," said Nibali. "It's really indescribable." Nibali, who will tackle the Tour de France in July before turning his attention to the Rio Olympics, added: "Yesterday was a fantastic day. Today, I want to share my joy with my family, my friends and my fans.
"I will try to rest, but then I have to start thinking about the Tour and the Olympics." Nibali finished the race with a 52sec lead on Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica), with Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) completing the podium at 1min 17sec behind on his maiden participation at 36 years old.
"It's a great race, and the public were brilliant," said Valverde, who won the Tour of Spain in 2009 but failed several times to win the Tour de France.
"To finish on the podium for my first participation is a huge honour for me." Kruijswijk, for whom this edition is likely to be unforgettable, finished in fourth place overall and has plenty of reason for regret.
He held a 4min 43sec on Nibali going into the final mountain stages on Friday and Saturday and was on course to make history by becoming the first Dutchman to win the race's fabled pink jersey.
But when the Lotto team leader crashed into a snowbank on the descent of the Col d'Agnello - whose summit sits on the French/Italian border - on Friday, it was enough to awaken Nibali from his slumber.
Nibali, known as 'Lo Squalo' (The Shark), seized on the setback and rose up from the depths to grab the race by the scruff of the neck.
Nibali raced to the stage win in Risoul, where he won a stage on his way to Tour de France glory in 2014, to leave Kruijswijk nursing a broken rib and virtually and 20secs in arrears.
It left Chaves with the pink jersey, but Nibali was only 44sec behind and put his team to work on the final day in the mountains on Saturday.
He finished sixth on the final stage in the mountains, but far enough ahead of a tiring Chaves to seize the race lead, and the pink jersey, on Saturday night.
Sunday's final stage - a 134km ride from Cuneo - was set aside for a sprint finish on the damp roads of Turin.
But, in keeping with the drama of the past few days, it finished in controversy.
In his desperation for a maiden Giro stage win, Nizzolo deviated from his line as he began his final dash on a damp, uphill section of road leading to the finish.
His illegal manoeuvre ended the hopes of Sacha Modolo, who gestured angrily as he was stopped from trying to sneak up the inside of the barriers.
Arndt admitted: "This is not the way I would have wanted to win a stage at the Giro.... but the jury has made its decision and there's nothing we, as riders, can do about it.
"I'm happy that I have a Giro stage win under my belt. I did a good sprint today anyway." Nizzolo made amends by collecting the sprint competition's red jersey, while Spaniard Mikel Nieve (Sky) beat Italian veteran Damiano Cunego to the race's King of the Mountains' prize.