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Giro d’Italia stage 19: Rain cannot dampen Tiralongo’s day in the sun

Stage 19: Bergamo to Macugnaga, 209km

12-year veteran Paolo Tiralongo claimed his first career victory at the end of the long climb to Macugnaga on stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia. The 33-year old Italian was caught but then paced to the finish by Alberto Contador, who graciously allowed his former domestique to cruise over the line unchallenged. It was the third consecutive day an Italian rider has won.

On a day when the riders had to contend with heavy rain and slick roads, Lars Bak (HTC-Highroad), Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) and Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) formed the day’s breakaway. They established an impressive 12-minute lead before the peloton, led by the Acqua & Sapone team of mountains classification leader Stefano Garzelli, set to work chipping away at the gap before they reached the first of the day’s two climbs.

The first-category Mottarone (13.8km, 6.2% average gradient), about two-thirds of the way through the stage, is an awkward and variable climb which touches gradients as high as 14% early and late in the climb, with a short descent midway and a difficult last 4km. The leading trio hit the lower slopes with their lead still a healthy nine minutes, but by the summit their advantage would be cut to barely one minute. Garzelli attacked off the front of the peloton on the steep closing section, narrowly failing to catch the leaders but still claiming fourth place over the summit and consolidating his lead in the mountains competition. He, Mickaël Cherel (Ag2R La Mondiale) and Johann Tschopp (BMC) caught the initial breakaway on the descent to form a new lead group of six. They were allowed to slip back out to four minutes in advance of the final climb.

In treacherous and torrentially wet conditions, a crash 45km from the finish involving the HTC pair of Craig Lewis and Marco Pinotti and a traffic sign in the middle of the road took down several riders. Lewis was taken directly to hospital with a fractured femur and two broken ribs, while Pinotti, second on yesterday’s stage, also abandoned after fracturing part of his hip-bone.

In the maglia rosa group, the Katusha team of Joaquim Rodríquez drove the pace, with Danilo di Luca prominent on the front as the breakaway started on the climb to Macugnaga, a seemingly interminable but mild 28km grind. Up ahead, the lead sextet slowly dissolved away to leave just Pineau and Rabottini on their own at the head of the race, to be caught with 14km remaining.

After several minutes of stalemate, Tiralongo launched his solo attack with just under 7km remaining. He was caught, but went again shortly after, and this time the leaders were content to let him go as he edged out to a 25-second advantage. With just over 2km to go, Hubert Dupont (AG2R) was the first to attack from the group, drawing a response from Rodríquez who caught and then continued past him.

Tiralongo was grateful for the help of his former team leader Contador

Next to try his luck was the maglia rosa himself. Contador’s short, sharp attack gapped everyone bar second, third and fourth-placed men Michele Scarponi, Vincenzo Nibali and John Gadret, and Rabobank‘s Steven Kruijswijk. Content with the impact of his acceleration, Contador eased off slightly and Gadret launched an immediate counter-attack. The race leader allowed him to stretch the elastic for a while, then kicked again, leaving the others reeling in his wake and flying over the top of Gadret as if he was standing still.

Contador’s electrifying acceleration catapulted him onto the tiring Tiralongo’s wheel 400 metres from the finish. He moved ahead then visibly eased off, giving his former teammate a welcome tow and enough of a boost to ensure he could claim the victory his solo break had richly deserved – a day after finishing fifth from a group break in San Pellegrino Terme – with the race leader as his wing-man.

Nibali beat out Gadret and Rodríquez in the sprint for third, enabling him to edge a few seconds closer to Scarponi in the overall. Although there were some minor gains and losses, there was no change in the order of the top five. Below them, however, Mikel Nieve, Roman Kreuziger and Rodríquez moved up at the expense of José Rujano and Denis Menchov.

Tiralongo had waited 12 long years to taste life on the top step of the podium, but was ready to savour the moment:

After a life as a domestique, I’ve finally reached my goal of winning a race.

He also revealed that his stage-winning attack had come with the prompting of the maglia rosa himself:

It was Alberto who suggested to me to attack with six kilometres to go. He touched my shoulder to give me the signal.

This was my only week of freedom. Otherwise, I always give 100% for my captains. I can imagine that 90% of the riders are very happy that I’ve won today after seeing me racing for my captains for such a long time. The first of them is Contador. When I saw him coming across to me, I saw a friend, not a rival. I knew he would do what he could to make me win this stage.

Contador himself was quick to pay tribute to his former teammate:

Paolo was absolutely essential to my Tour de France victory last year. He was a great teammate. He worked for me all season long last year and I am glad today to see him win as if I had won myself.

Tomorrow’s penultimate stage from Verbania to Sestrière opens with a long, flat run before tackling two Alpine peaks. The concluding climb to Sestrière (16.2km, 3.8%) is not that difficult in itself, but it is preceded by the monstrous Colle delle Finestre, an unremitting 18.5km of hell at an average gradient of 9.2%, whose summit is just 11km before the start of the Sestrière ascent. The race will explode into life on the Finestre, although the top riders may be so busy covering each other’s moves that there is a big opportunity for a breakaway to survive to the end.

Stage 20 profile

Stage 19 result:

1. Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) 5:26:27

2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) same time

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:03

4. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:06

5. Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) s/t

General classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 77:11:24

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +5:18

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +5:52

4. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) +7:53

5. Kanstantsin Sivstov (HTC-Highroad)  +9:58

6. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +10:08

7. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +10:20

8. Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) +10:43

9. Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) +10:51

10. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +11:50

Points classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 178 pts

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) 112

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 111

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 87

5. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) 85

Mountains classification:

1. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) 67 pts

2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 56

3. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 39

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 29

5. Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF Inox) 29

Links: Giro d’Italia official websiteSteephill.tv

Giro d’Italia recaps

Stage 1: Pinotti swaps red, white and green for pink

Stage 2: Petacchi celebrates, Cavendish remonstrates in ham-fisted Parma finish

Stage 3: Weylandt’s death casts a long shadow

Stage 4: Peloton rides in tribute to Weylandt

Stage 5: Weening takes maglia rosa as Millar bites the dust

Stage 6: Ale-Jet runs out of gas as Ventoso wins uphill drag

Stage 7: De Clercq claims first professional win by a whisker

Stage 8: Gatto gets the cream as Contador shows his claws

Stage 9: Explosive Contador erupts on Etna

Stage 10: No tow required as Cavendish opens Giro account

Stage 11: Gadret times his finish to perfection

Stage 12: Cavendish doubles up and retires from the Giro

Stage 13: Contador’s gift leaves Rujano singing in the rain

Stage 14: All pain, few gain as Antón triumphs on the ascent to Hell

Stage 15: Nieve wins marathon stage, Contador sails serenely on

Stage 16: Contador victory confirms Giro rivals are racing for second

Stage 17: Ulissi wins, Visconti relegated when push comes to shove

Stage 18: Capecchi finally puts Liquigas in the winner’s circle

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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