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Giro Stage 19: Sastre climbs to victory while Menchov stays in pink

20 seconds separate the main men as the Giro heads for a cliff hanging finale

Giro d'Italia - Avellino – Vesuvio 160Km

Before today's stage start Carlos Sastre's team director Jean Paul Van Poppel said: "We're going to play it hard and hope that Carlos has his legs again. I think he can do it, which is why we are planning to go for it. We know it is going to be very difficult, but we won't give up until the climb is finished."

He spoke the truth as once again the Spaniard gave a masterful display of aggressive climbing. He looks to be running in to form ahead of the Tour, but he's left it too late for the Giro. A day that promised eruptions, fireworks and drama duly delivered unfortunately as far as the watching tifosi were concerned whenever home favourite Danilo di Luca (LPR Brakes) looked to light the blue touch paper there was a Russian wet blanket on hand to stifle any explosion. While Sastre gave a masterful display of climbing Menchov (Rabobank) showed how you defend a lead in a grand tour.

Everything about today's stage was a 147Km hors d'oeuvre until the race hit the slopes of Vesuvius: Menchov punctured and Armstrong (Astana) crashed but it was inevitable that the main players would all be together on the slopes of the volcano. Even when they had a lead approaching four minutes Yuriy Krivtsov and Mauro Facci, who attacked early and stayed out all day where destined to be caught, and where did that happen? The bottom of Vesuvius of course.

So, we were treated to a race within a race, within a race. Here's how it went.

9km - Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Stefano Garzelli attack.

8.5km Di Luca attacks but Menchov is stuck to his wheel Sastre in tow as well, Armstrong there too, Basso goes on his own shedding Garzelli - Sastre gives chase and catches Basso. Sastre looks strong (the chasing group contains Menchov, Di Luca, Leipheimer and Armstrong). Garzelli attacks from that chasing group with less than 6Km to go in a bid to catch Sastre and Basso 20 seconds further up the road it comes to nothing.

Sastre 8 sec from Basso, 40 up on the chasing group.

Di Luca and Pellizotti attack – Menchov on their wheel, the attack comes to nothing. Then it's Simoni's turn to attack – Armstrong now leads the chasing group and they are soon all together again… with Sastre and Basso still out front.

Di Luca attacks again and again Menchov is stuck to his wheel with Pellizotti and Leipheimer for company too, but Sastre continues to go away and has almost a minute on the chasers. Pellizotti then attacks again and gets away – the struggling Basso waits for him.

Di Luca attacks again, but he can't shake off his Russian shadow, by now Sastre is inside the last kilometre. Inside the last kilometre and Menchov and Di Luca catch and pass Basso, but no-on is going to catch Sastre. He takes the win with Pellizotti in second and looking like a man who is going to make the third step of the podium in Rome.

In sight of the line Di Luca attacks again… you guessed it. He finished 3rd and picks up a small time bonus of six seconds, Menchov is glued to his wheel in fourth and Basso comes home in 5th.

The day ends with Menchov still in pink – Di Luca has one last chance to wrest the maglia rosa from Menchov's shoulders tomorrow when the race heads to in a stage that could have been designed for Di Luca. But will he be able to extract enough of an advantage ahead of the final time trial which in turn favours Menchov?

Top 10 Giro d'Italia Stage 19

1) Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team)         4.33.23 (35.993 km/h)
2) Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas)                 0.21
3) Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini)   0.30
4) Denis Menchov (Rabobank)
5) Ivan Basso (Liquigas)                        0.35
6) Levi Leipheimer (Astana)                     0.53
7) Tadej Valjavec (AG2R La Mondiale)            1.14
8) Serge Pauwels (Cervelo Test Team)             1.15
9) Jose Serpa (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli)
10) Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone - Caffe Mokambo) 
General classification Giro d'Italia after stage 19
1) Denis Menchov (Rabobank)                    81.13.55
2) Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini)      0.18
3) Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas)                    1.39
4) Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team)               2.40
5) Ivan Basso (Liquigas)                           3.33
6) Levi Leipheimer (Astana)                        4.55's founder and first editor, nowadays to be found riding a spreadsheet. Tony's journey in cycling media started in 1997 as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - finally handing on the reins in 2021 to Jack Sexty. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes, though he'd like to own a carbon bike one day.

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