Pointing skyward in honor of his late teammate Xavier Tondo, Movistar’s Vasili Kiryienka won the 20th stage of the Giro d’Italia, after spending more than 200 kilometers on the attack in the 242km race from Verbania to Sestriere.
Kiryienka finished more than four-and-a-half minutes of Jose Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha).
Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) easily preserved his hold on the leader’s jersey, finishing with a group of top GC contenders more than five minutes behind the day’s winner.
Kiryienka was part of a large 13-rider break that formed 30km into the 242km stage while the race was still on the flats leading to the two major climbs – the Colle delle Finestre and the summit finish at Sestriere – that highlighted the final portion of the day.
Kiryienka moved ahead of his breakaway companions on the Finestre and summited with a large lead over Rujano, who had moved out of the peloton, catching all of the other escapees on the slopes of the 18.5km ascent.
Flat, fast start
With a long stretch of flat ground to cover before the two major hurdles at the end, the peloton left Verbania and those in the hunt for a stage win did their best to gain time on the main field.
It wasn’t until 45km into the stage, however, that the day’s break formed as Kiryienka, Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack), Kevin Seeldrayers (Quickstep), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Angel Vicioso (Androni Giocattoli), Luca Mazzanti (Farnese Vini – Neri Sottoli), Josep Jufre (Astana), Sebastian Lang (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Cristiano Salerno (Liquigas-Cannondale), Diego Ulissi (Lampre – ISD), Carlos Betancourt (Acqua & Sapone), Miguel Minguez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM) moved ahead and built up a lead that topped out at more than 10:30.
The group, however, quickly came apart on the Colle delle Finestre with Kiryienka the sole survivor managing to fend off a strong pursuit by Rujano, who broke out of a dwindling peloton on the lower slopes of the long climb.
Behind him, however, the day was far from settled as Vincenzo Nibali’s Liquigas team set a strong tempo at the front of the peloton in an effort to isolate Michele Scarponi and cut away at the Lampre rider’s 34-second advantage over the third-placed Nibali.
While that part of the plan succeeded, Nibali was unable to seal the deal and was gapped, losing 15 seconds to Scarponi at the summit. A superb descender, Nibali fought back, but then lost time in the last kilometer-and-a-half on the final climb.
Kiryienka, who summited the Finestre with a lead of 3:45 over Rujano, not only managed to hold on to his advantage on the technical descent, but extended it on the descent and the ensuing climb and finished 4:43 ahead of the tiny Venezuelan climber and 4:50 over a hard-charging Rodriguez in Sestriere.
“It’s a great day for the team,” said Kiryienka after finishing in 6:17:03. “We wanted to put in a great race in order to pay hommage to Xavi Tondo,” who was killed in a freak accident on Monday when he was crushed between his car and a garage door at a ski resort in southern Spain as he prepared for training for the Tour de France.
Tondo had only signed for Movistar at the start of the season after an impressive 2010 campaign with Cervelo the TestTeam.
“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,” he said.
Contador, meanwhile, enters Sunday’s final stage time trial in Milan with a formidable lead of 5:18 over Scarponi and 6:14 over Nibali.
- 1. Vasili Kiryienka (BLR), Movistar,6:17:03
- 2. José Rujano Guillen (VEN), Androni Giocattoli, at 4:43
- 3. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (ESP), Team Katusha, at 4:50
- 4. Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (COL), Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo, at 5:31
- 5. John Gadret (FRA), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 5:54
- 1. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spain), SaxoBank-Sungard, 83:34:25
- 2. Michele Scarponi (Italy), Lampre-ISD, at 5:18
- 3. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy), Liquigas-Cannondale, at 6:14
- 4. John Gadret (France), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 7:49
- 5. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spain), Team Katusha, at 9:27