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Giro d’Italia stage 20: Victorious Kiryienka pays tribute to Tondó

Stage 20: Verbania to Sestrière, 242km

On a day which turned out to be not quite as explosive as expected, Vasil Kiryienka claimed a memorable solo victory on the slopes of Sestrière and paid tribute to his former Movistar teammate Xavier Tondó by looking up and pointing to the skies with both hands. It was a fitting dedication for one of the peloton’s most popular riders, who died in a freak accident earlier this week when he was crushed against a garage door by his own car.

The penultimate stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia from Verbania to Sestrière was flat for over 190km before the monstrous Colle delle Finestre, an unremitting 18.5km of hell at an average gradient of 9.2%, which leads into the ascent to Sestrière – celebrating the centenary of its first appearance at the Giro – a relatively benign climb but one taxing enough to expose riders with over 3,000km of hard racing in their legs.

A 13-man breakaway formed early on, including serial escapees such as Quick Step‘s Kevin Seeldraeyers, two previous stage winners in Ángel Vicioso (Androni Giocattoli) and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD), Carlos Betancourt (Acqua & Sapone) and Kiryienka. They stretched out their lead to over 11 minutes, before AG2R La Mondiale and Lampre – working for John Gadret (fourth overall) and Michele Scarponi (second) set about bringing down the gap. Later Liquigas-Cannondale would also drive the pace in the chasing pack, looking to set up third-placed Vincenzo Nibali, who started the day just 34 seconds in arrears of Scarponi.

Kiryienka claimed his second career Giro stage win

Kiryienka launched his attack early on the Finestre climb with 41km to go, just as the chasing group had reduced the gap to under four minutes. He gradually worked out a decisive advantage, and by the time he went over the summit at 27km he led two chasers, José Rujano (who had jumped off the front of the maglia rosa group) and Betancourt, with his lead stable at close to four minutes.

Behind these three, the maglia rosa group continued to thin out, with Nibali losing contact towards the top of the climb, leaving only the likes of Alberto Contador, Denis Menchov, Joaquim Rodríquez, Steven Kruijswijk, Gadret and Scarponi to lead the pursuit. Nibali did manage to reconnect with the group on the descent, but decided he simply didn’t have the legs today to launch his expected attack on the descent, leading to a disappointing stalemate as the group rode a neutral tempo which effectively matched that of Kiryienka up ahead.

The Belarusian continued strongly on up the final 16.2km climb to Sestrière, and never looked in any danger of being threatened for the stage win. He was able to cruise to the finish at leisure, looking skywards with both hands upraised, in a celebration reminiscent of Lance Armstrong‘s salute to Fabio Casartelli at the 1995 Tour de France.

Behind him, Rujano dropped Betancourt and continued his solitary pursuit of the leader, although he was unable to dent his lead. Rodríquez then attacked from the favourites’ group, overhauling Betancourt and failing, by just seven seconds, to catch Rujano for second. Betancourt clung on for fourth, while Gadret was fifth just ahead of the maglia rosa, who rolled in with Scarponi, Menchov and Kruijswijk. Contador had appeared totally unruffled throughout, happy to preserve his advantage and wait in the wings in readiness for his coronation tomorrow.

Although there was a disappointing lack of action in the tussle between Scarponi and Nibali for third, Rodríquez and Rujano were big winners on the day, moving up from eighth to fifth and from tenth to sixth respectively. Conversely, Mikel Nieve fell from sixth to tenth, while Kanstantsin Sivstov dropped from fifth all the way to 11th.

Kiryienka had previously won a Giro stage in 2008 and had already shown strong form this season, finishing second overall at the Critérium International and winning a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country. He explained how Movistar had been trying all week to win a stage for Tondó:

We decided the best way to pay tribute to him was to stay in the Giro. We attacked for four days to win a stage for him and I am so happy to be able to deliver this for him.

Today was a great day for me and for my team. I will always remember our teammate Xavi Tondó. I won in a manner very beautiful for him. It was a hard stage but I was thinking of him when I was riding today. It was like he was riding with me.

At the finish line I put my glasses on so people couldn’t see the tears flowing. I am very, very happy with my achievement.

Scarponi took a further 22 seconds out of Nibali, tipping the balance in his favour as he seeks to defend second place in tomorrow’s time trial:

Today’s stage was so hard, I gave all I could to try to get more time. Nibali is usually faster than me in the time trial, but I will give all I have. I want to keep second place.

Nibali accepted that the shortened time trial route – cut from 31.5km to 26km – works against his chances of overhauling Scarponi:

Of course, if the time trial course was longer, it would be better for me. Scarponi and I have been more or less equal. One day he’s a little bit better than me, then the next I’m a little sharper. Tomorrow we’ll see who has the legs.

And race leader Contador was finally willing to admit that his sixth Grand Tour victory – his second at the Giro – was now firmly within his grasp:

I’m very happy because unless something crazy happens, I’ve won the Giro.

Today was a very tough and long stage. A big break went very early, then in the final part my only aim was to control my closest rivals.

Tomorrow’s concluding time trial in Milan is now just 26km in length. With Italian national time trial champion Marco Pinotti out of the race, Britain’s David Millar will start among the favourites to win on the flat course. Barring a serious accident Contador, who will not be taking any unnecessary risks, will be crowned champion at the end of the afternoon. The other key battle is for second, between Scarponi and Nibali, with 56 seconds separating the pair. The winner of that two-man battle could yet be crowned 2011 Giro champion, depending on the outcome of Contador’s upcoming CAS hearing. It’s not how either man would want to win the race, but it remains a very real prospect.

Stage 20 result:

1. Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) 6:17:03

2. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +4:43

3. Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) +4:50

4. Carlos Betancourt (Acqua & Sapone) +5:31

5. John Gadret (Ag2r La Mondiale) +5:54

General classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 83:34:25

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

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +6:14

4. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) +7:49

5. Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) +9:27

6. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +10:23

7. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +10:38

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

9. Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) +12:56

10. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +12:57

Points classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 186 pts

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) 122

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 116

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 107

5. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) 97

Mountains classification:

1. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) 67 pts

2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 58

3. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 43

4. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 39

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

Stage 19: Rain cannot dampen Tiralongo’s day in the sun

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

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