Giro d'Italia leader David Arroyo of Spain is beginning to dream of his first major success after again keeping pace with the bigger names on the hairpin bends of the Dolomites on Wednesday.
France's Damien Monier of Cofidis took the 17th stage for his first professional win after a late breakaway on a steep but manageable finish.
He collapsed to the ground in relief after crossing the line ahead of Danilo Hondo and Steven Kruijswijk.
Pink jersey leader Arroyo was well behind in the main pack but importantly lost no more time to second-placed Ivan Basso, who had cut his advantage in the previous two stages.
The Giro ends with a time trial in Verona on Sunday and Arroyo still holds a two minutes 27 seconds lead over Italy's Basso.
"Now we can start to dream," Caisse d'Epargne rider Arroyo told reporters.
The 30-year-old, whose biggest achievement to date was a stage win on the 2008 Tour of Spain, has led for four stages in this Giro having finished 11th overall last May.
This year's race was first dominated by crashes in the opening sections in the Netherlands before the peloton split in two after a sudden mass breakaway on a rainy 11th stage to L'Aquila, turning the Giro on its head and leaving behind favourites such as Alexandre Vinokourov.
The unpredictability of the race is giving 2006 winner Basso renewed hope of catching Arroyo.
"This Giro has seen incredible fluctuations. The most important thing is to race with the right attitude," Liquigas rider Basso said.
Thursday's 156km 18th stage comes down from Italy's northern mountains to the city of Brescia.
(Writing by Mark Meadows; Editing by Ken Ferris; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)