Paolo Tiralongo of Astana took a deserved maiden Giro d'Italia stage win today - indeed, the hard-working gregario's first in 12 years as a pro - after attacking on the approach to the summit finish on the Macugnaga. In taking the victory, he benefited from the largesse of Alberto Contador, the man he helped win last year's Tour de France with Astana. The Spaniard, now with Saxo Bank-SunGard, finished second, deciding not to contest the finish with his former team mate after powering away from his rivals once again in the closing kilometre. Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas Cannondale finished third.
The 33-year-old Sicilian Tiralongo, who in the past has placed second and third in Giro stages, had made his solo bid for victory on the climb of the Macugnaga, 1,360 metres up in the Alps on the Italian-Swiss border and making its first appearance in the Giro.
Behind him, Joaquin Rodriguez, whose Katusha team had done all the work in chasing down an earlier break, went off in pursuit a couple of kilometres out, with the other leading riders in the general classification also starting to make their own attacks.
Entering the final kilometre, Contador made his decisive move, cruising past Rodriguez and swiftly catching Tiralongo. Had the chasing riders led by Nibali been closer, the Saxo Bank SunGard man might have been forced to pass Tiralongo, which would have been heartbreaking for the Italian given his efforts on behalf of others over the years.
With no prospect of he or his ex-team mate being overhauled, however, Contador, who looked by far the stronger of the pair, left the way clear for his former colleague to take a win that clearly meant the world to him, emotion etched on his face as he crossed the line.
The rain has largely held off during this year’s race, but today it hammered down for much of the 209-kilometre stage to the summit finish on the Macugnaga, 1,360 metres up in the Alps on the Italian-Swiss border, making its first appearance in the Giro.
As the riders headed up from the shores of Lake Maggiore and tackled the day’s other main climb, the Mottarone, a thunderstorm was thrown in for good measure. Further ahead, on the Macugnaga, the clouds had finally parted with sun poking through the low clouds that shrouded the mountain.
The weather unsurprisingly made the roads treacherous, with Craig Lewis of HTC-Highroad and team mate Marco Pinotti both taken to hospital as a precaution after a heavy crash. Thankfully, initial reports stated that neither rider was in danger, with both of them conscious.
However, with this year’s Giro overshadowed by the tragic death a fortnight ago of Leopard Trek’s Wouter Weylandt, the incident provided a stark reminder of the dangers professional cyclists face every day.
Pinotti, a native of today’s stage start town, Bergamo, was the first man to wear the maglia rosa this year following the opening team time trial in Turin. Second on yesterday’s Stage 18 in San Pellegrino Terme, he had been one of the favourites to take Sunday’s individual time trial in Milan which brings the 94th Giro to Italia to a close.
The crash also caused a split in the peloton, but the three men occupying the podium places – Contador, Lampre-ISD’s Michele Scarponi and Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas Cannondale – all riding near the front of the peloton precisely to avoid being delayed by such an incident, were safely in the first group.
Ahead of them, Jerome Pineau of Quickstep and Matteo Rabattini of Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli were the last two survivors of what had at one point been a six-man breakaway group.
The pair were swept up 15 kilometres out, with Danilo Di Luca – stripped of 2nd place overall and his points classification win in the 2009 Giro after testing positive for CERA – doing a huge turn on behalf of Katusha colleague Jouaquin Rodriguez at the front of the main group.
Pineau and Rabattini had got away 40 kilometres into the stage together with HTC-Highroad’s Lars Bak, and on the ascent of the Mottarone, Stefano Garzelli launched himself off the front of the peloton, claiming 3 points as he crossed the summit in fourth place an effort to consolidate his lead in the mountains classification, where his only realistic challenger now is Contador himself.
Two other riders also bridged across to the leading group, Mikael Cherel of Ag2R and BMC Racing’s Yohan Tschopp, but the breakaway fell apart as it began the ascent of the Macugnaga, the riders brought back into the leading group ahead of Tiralongo’s attack.
Giro d’Italia Stage 19 result 1 TIRALONGO Paolo Astana 5:26:27 2 CONTADOR Alberto Saxo Bank-SunGard 0:00 3 NIBALI Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale 0:03 4 GADRET John AG2R 0:06 5 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin Katusha 0:06 6 KRUIJSWIJK Steven Rabobank 0:06 7 SCARPONI Michele Lampre-ISD 0:08 8 KREUZIGER Roman Astana 0:21 9 DUPONT Hubert AG2R 0:29 10 SIVTSOV Kanstantsin HTC-Highroad 0:34 11 NIEVE Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:34 12 CATALDO Dario Quickstep 0:40 13 MORENO Daniel Katusha 0:56 14 LAGUTIN Sergey Vancansoleil-DCM 1:00 15 MENCHOV Denis Geox-TMC 1:01 16 MACHADO Tiago RadioShack 1:04 17 DE GREEF Francis Omega Pharma-Lotto 1:09 18 ARROYO David Movistar 1:15 19 NAVARRO Daniel Saxo Bank-SunGard 1:20 20 PORTE Richie Saxo Bank-SunGard 1:20 Giro d’Italia Overall Standings after Stage 19 1 CONTADOR Alberto Saxo Bank-SunGard 77:11:24 2 SCARPONI Michele Lampre-ISD 5:18 3 NIBALI Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale 5:52 4 GADRET John AG2R 7:53 5 SIVTSOV Kanstantsin HTC-Highroad 9:58 6 NIEVE Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi 10:08 7 KREUZIGER Roman Astana 10:20 8 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin Katusha 10:43 9 MENCHOV Denis Geox-TMC 10:51 10 RUJANO Jose Androni Giocattoli 11:50
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.