Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) won stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia on Friday, crossing just ahead of race leader Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard), who rocketed out of a dwindling chase in the final kilometer to shadow the Italian across the line.
The maglia rosa group, led by the Katusha squad of Danilo Di Luca, had just reeled in the remains of a daylong break with less than 14km to go. Di Luca shut down one attack by Tiralongo in the final kilometers, but could not negate a second, and the Astana man raced alone toward the finish line atop the Macugnaga, a 28.2km Cat. 3 ascent.
John Gadret (Ag2r) countered, followed by Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and finally Contador, who passed both men and overhauled Tiralongo in the final kilometer. But the race leader was content to add seconds to his overall advantage, and allowed the Astana man to take the stage victory.
How it unfolded
The penultimate mountain stage of the 2011 Giro covered 209km and included the Category 1 ascent of the Mottarone —13.8km with an average grade of 6.2 percent and a maximum of 14 percent — and the final climb to Macugnaga, a 28.2km Cat. 3 averaging 3.9 percent with a maximum of 12 percent.
It was far from a lovely day for racing, with rain at the start, rain and the finish and rain in between. That may be why when the break of the day finally formed at 51km — featuring Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step), Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini) and Lars Bak (HTC-Highroad) — it was given a leash nearly 12 minutes long.
Finally, the soggy peloton came to life, and with 85km remaining the gap was down to four minutes.
The steeps of the Mattarone proved a bit much for Bak, who dropped off on the ascent but fought back to the leaders. Then mountains leader Stefan Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone) attacked out of the bunch and bridged to the leaders, with Johann Tschopp (BMC) and Mickaël Cherel (Ag2r) chasing. They, too, latched on and it was a six-man group out front with two minutes over the peloton.
Forty kilometers from the line the break had 2:30 over the chase. A crash in the bunch took down a number of riders — Marco Pinotti and Craig Lewis (HTC); Thomas Peterson (Garmin-Cervélo); Carlos Sastre (Geox-TMC); Tiago Machado (RadioShack); Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil); Carlos Ochoa (Androni) and Luca Mazzanti (Farnese).
It appeared that Lewis struck a traffic island along a stretch of road with about 35km to go in Friday’s stage as the main pack was nearing the start of the long climb to the finish line.
TV images on RAI showed Lewis being transferred into an ambulance. An attendant held an umbrella over Lewis’s face as he was lifted by stretcher. Pinotti, too abandoned.
Ahead, the break began the final climb with just 40 seconds’ advantage over the bunch, being led by Danilo Di Luca’s Katusha squad. Again, Bak was first to lose the wheel and slipped backward. Garzelli, Tschopp and Cherel joined him and soon Pineau and Rabbotini were on their own, sloshing along the wet roads toward the finish 20km further along the road.
Katusha gets busy
The two held just 12 seconds over the maglia rosa group with 15km remaining. And before much longer the chase had them in sight. The catch came with 13.4km to go as Katusha strung the field out in one long line on the gradual ascent to Macugnaga. Among those sent unceremoniously out the back on the climb was Garzelli, leader of the mountains competition.
With 6.7km remaining Tiralongo attacked out of the dwindling bunch. Di Luca quickly shut down that move. Then Tiralongo went again, shooting out of a tunnel with 5.5km to race and quickly establishing a respectable gap of 15 seconds as the bunch dithered.
Tiralongo, sitting 21st overall at 29:43, was no threat to Contador, who had only one teammate, Richie Porte, to keep him company.
With 3km to go Tiralongo had 22 seconds over the maglia rosa group. Then Gadret attacked, followed by Rodriguez, whom Di Luca apparently had been hoping to set up for the victory.
Then Contador lit it up and went after the lone leader, racing into the final kilometer and quickly overhauling Tiralongo. But he was content to add to his overall advantage while reminding everyone who was the patrón of this year’s Giro, and remained just behind, allowing the Astana rider to cross the line first for the stage win.