Rome - Paolo Tiralongo out-sprinted one of the overall favourites in Michele Scarponi to win the seventh stage of the Giro d'Italia over 202km from Recanati to Rocca di Cambio on Saturday.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal took fifth on the stage, five seconds back, to take over the pink jersey from Italian Andriano Malori.
Hesjedal knows he won't be able to hold onto his lead right through to Milan but he intends to enjoy this moment for as long as he can.
"I didn't want to let this possibility go and I have to thank the whole team, especially (Christian) Vande Velde, for this incredible dream they're giving me," he said.
"For me the aim is to wear the pink jersey for as long as possible."
The stage finished with a 19km climb up to Rocca di Cambio that really ramped up in the final 1.5km.
Escapees Stefano Pirazzi and Jose Herrada were caught in that final steep part after which Scarponi made a break for home from 400-metres out.
Tiralongo gritted his teeth and stuck with his Italian countryman before nipping past in the final 50m.
"After the finish I didn't have any oxygen, I was really exhausted," said Tiralongo.
"It was a very hard and interminable stage. Already I had to absorb the tiredness from yesterday (Friday) and tomorrow will be even harder.
His beaten foe was looking at the bigger picture.
"Honestly I wasn't thinking about attacking but I found myself in an excellent position at the end and I tested the legs given that I was there," said Scarponi.
"It was a good response, I'd have liked to have won but my aim doesn't change."
Luxembourg's Frank Schleck took third on the stage, three seconds back, with Joaquim Rodriguez in fourth with the same time.
It was the first stage in which the overall favourites started to show their class with the likes of twice former winner Ivan Basso taking eighth on the stage, nine seconds down, to move up to that same position overall.
Czech Roman Kreuziger also stuck with the leading group and is now seventh overall.
Tiralongo's 20-second time bonus for winning the stage helped him up to second overall, 15 seconds down on Hesjedal, with Spaniard Rodriguez now third just another two seconds back.
American Garmin pair Vande Velde and Peter Stetina round out the top five.
The stage began with an immediate four-man break comprising Matteo Rabottini, Mirko Selvaggi, Japan's Fumiyuku Beppu and Reto Hollenstein.
It lasted until just over 20km left when Rabottini decided to go solo with the peloton quickly closing in.
The other escapees were soon caught while first Pirazzi and then Herrada attacked off the front of the group.
They briefly made a three-man group with Rabottini but the Italian could not keep going with it and soon dropped off.
Herrada made a sole break when Pirazzi lost time by almost going the wrong way at a junction.
The Spaniard held on until 600m from the line when the group caught and passed him, leaving Scarponi and Tiralongo to fight for victory.
1. Paolo Tiralongo (Italy / Astana) 5 hrs 51 mins 03 secs
2. Michele Scarponi (Italy / Lampre) same time
3. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg / RadioShack) +3"
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain / Katusha)
5. Ryder Hesjedal (Canada / Garmin) +5"
6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Italy / Colnago - CSF) +9"
7. Daniel Moreno (Spain / Katusha)
8. Ivan Basso (Italy / Liquigas)
9. Mikel Nieve (Spain / Euskaltel) +11"
10. Gianluca Brambilla (Italy / Colnago - CSF)
11. Sergio Henao (Colombia / Team Sky)
12. Benat Intxausti (Spain / Movistar)
13. Eros Capecchi (Italy / Liquigas)
14. Serge Pauwels (Belgium / Omega Pharma - Quick-Step)
15. John Gadret (France / AG2R)
1. Ryder Hesjedal (Canada / Garmin) 26 hrs 16 mins 53 secs
2. Paolo Tiralongo (Italy / Astana) +15"
3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain / Katusha) +17"
4. Christian Vande Velde (U.S. / Garmin) +21"
5. Peter Stetina (U.S. / Garmin) +26"
6. Daniel Moreno (Spain / Katusha)
7. Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic / Astana) +35"
8. Ivan Basso (Italy / Liquigas) +40"
9. Damiano Caruso (Italy / Liquigas) +45"
10. Dario Cataldo (Italy /OmegaPharma-Quick-Step) +46"