Risoul - Italy's Vincenzo Nibali of Astana escaped alone to a summit-finish victory in the 19th stage of the Giro d'Italia on Friday whilst Colombia's Esteban Chaves rode into the pink jersey by coming third on the day.
Pre-race favourite Nibali, 31, had been thought to be dead and buried at this Giro after starting the day fourth overall at 4min 43sec, but is now just 44 seconds off the pace in second, ahead of another mountain stage on Saturday.
The 2013 champion looked like a man transformed on the final climb and wept openly after crossing the finish line for his sixth Giro stage win overall, before dedicating the victory to a deceased 14-year-old cyclist killed in an accident ten days ago.
The victory came after the 'Shark' had come in for fierce criticism in the Italian press throughout the race and had been on the brink of being withdrawn by his coach Paolo Slongo after suffering from an illness over the previous days.
"I've had some difficult days," Nibali said after the race. "But today it was payback time."
Sky's Mikel Nieve was second on the day, just a couple of seconds ahead of Chaves.
Overnight leader Steven Kruijswijk finished almost five minutes off the pace after surviving a spectacular head-over-heels fall on the rapid descent of the Col d'Agnel but then getting dropped badly on the last climb.
Kruijswijk's teammates had all been dropped by the time of the fall, when he hit a huge wall of snow at 2 700m altitude, and his team car was too far away to give him a new bike in good time, so he began the last climb already two minutes off the pace and with a bloody elbow.
"I've lost the Giro," he said after the race. "I made a mistake and suddenly I was in the snow. I wasn't really hurt in the fall but the bike was damaged. Despite all my efforts I lost contact with the others. It hit me really hard."
The overnight leader showed real guts going up the last climb alone but finished 4:54 off Nibali, dropping to third overall at 1:05.
The fifth-placed rider at the start of the day, Russia's Ilnur Zakarin ended it motionless at the bottom of a ditch with a broken collarbone after a terrible crash on interminable 40km descent between the day's two .
Chaves, a 26-year-old climber from Bogota, managed to stay within striking distance of Nibali and rode a wonderfully paced second climb, after pushing the pace on the first, to finish 53sec adrift of Nibali.
"Until now I've been attacking, which is what I did today on the first climb, but tomorrow I'll be defending," Chaves promised.
Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde also struggled to follow the pure climbers Nibali and Chaves, and crossed the line with Rafal Majka 2min 11sec after the winner.
The result sees Valverde drop from third to fourth overall.
It leaves things finely poised ahead of Saturday's 134km mountain stage, the last opportunity for riders to make a victory bid, with three summits to scale at over 2000m.
Results from the 19th stage of the 2016 Giro d'Italia on Friday, a 162km mountain run from Pinerolo to a summit finish at Risoul:
1. Vicezo Nibali 4hr 19min 54sec, 2. Mikel Nieve (ESP/SKY) at 51sec, 3. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI) 53, 4. Diego Ulissi (ITA/LAM) 1:02, 5. Rafal Majka (POL/TIN) 2:14, 6. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) same time, 7. Rigoberto Uran (COL/CAN) s.t., 8. Georg Preidler (AUT/GIA) 2:43, 9. Nicolas Roche (IRL/SKY) 2:51, 10. Hubert Dupont (FRA/ALM) s.t.
14. Bob Jungels (LUX/ETI) 3:45, 15. Andrey Amador (CRC/MOV) 4:30, 16. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) 4:54, 17. Kanstantsin Siutsou (BLR/DDT) 5:53, 24. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/ALM) 7:55
1. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI) 78hr 14min 20sec, 2. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) at 44sec, 3. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) 1min 05sec, 4. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 1:48, 5. Rafal Majka (POL/TIN) 3:59, 6. Bob Jungels (LUX/ETI) 7:53, 7. Andrey Amador (CRC/MOV) 9:34, 8. Rigoberto Uran (COL/CAN) 12:18, 9. Kanstantsin Siutsou (BLR/DDT) 13:19, 10. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/ALM) 14:11