AP Sports Writer

BLOCKHAUS, Italy (AP) There was the trademark glance over his shoulder. That famous upright stance on the pedals, and the fans cheering Lance Armstrong all alone on his way up the mountain.

Only this time, Armstrong's solo attack petered out after a few miles and the seven-time Tour de France winner finished 10th in the 17th stage of the Giro d'Italia on Wednesday, 1 minute, 59 seconds behind stage winner Franco Pellizotti.

When Armstrong attacked on the uphill finish, he left the race leaders behind and got as close as 25 yards behind leader Pellizotti.

"It was a nice try," Armstrong's team director Johan Bruyneel said. "Definitely he is coming to another level again. That's exactly what I hoped for."

Armstrong is still regaining his form after 3 years of retirement and breaking his collarbone in March. Until now, he has been riding in support of teammate Levi Leipheimer.

But with Leipheimer out of contention in sixth place, 4:32 behind overall leader Denis Menchov, Armstrong can ride on his own.

"Got a little antsy and went early after Pellizoti (who won) but didn't have the legs to catch him," Armstrong wrote on his Twitter feed. "But I feel my condition is improving ok considering I drank beer for 4 years, crashed hard last month, and am an old dog."

Armstrong eventually dropped back for the rest of the climb behind defending Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, with two-time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni in tow. Armstrong remained 12th, 12:17 behind.

"Armstrong is improving every day. You can see how competitive he is by the way he's pedaling," Simoni said. "It's the same style from his seven Tour de France wins. You could even see it in the opening stages, even if he wasn't competitive then. He's going to have a great Tour de France."

Pellizotti attacked at the start of the final climb and the Italian with the Liquigas team finished 42 seconds ahead of Stefano Garzelli, with local favorite Danilo Di Luca third, 43 seconds back. Menchov crossed fourth, 48 seconds after Pellizotti.

Pellizotti clocked 2 hours, 21 minutes, 6 seconds over the 52-mile leg from Chieti to Blockhaus in the earthquake-hit Abruzzo region.

Armstrong may have had a chance to win the stage if he caught Pellizotti.

"I saw that Lance wanted to try, but the stage was short. It was almost like a climbing time trial," Pellizotti said. "I gave it my all and there was no way I was going to wait for him."

Di Luca, from the Abruzzo region, said he wanted to win this stage to offer his fellow residents a day of joy after the April 6 quake that killed nearly 300 people and drove some 50,000 from their homes.

The quake was centered less than 62 miles from Blockhaus.

Fans booed at Garzelli for passing Di Luca in the sprint for second place, and then whistled again when Menchov put on the pink jersey in the daily podium presentation.

"Those are my fans," Di Luca said. "Even worse things happen at (soccer) stadiums."

Menchov was not bothered.

"He's from this area. I can understand it," the Russian said.

Menchov's lead over Di Luca in the overall standings was reduced to 26 seconds and Pellizotti moved up from fourth to third, 2:00 behind.

Pellizotti's teammate Ivan Basso also moved up a spot to fourth, 3:28 behind Menchov, while Sastre dropped from third to fifth, 3:30 back.

Stage 18 Thursday is a 113-mile rolling leg from Sulmona to Benevento. Only one more uphill finish remains, with stage 19 Friday heading up to Mount Vesuvius overlooking Naples.

The race ends Sunday with a short individual time trial in Rome.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.