Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) may have driven the final nail today in the Giro d’Italia, finishing second in stage 19, but more importantly 13 seconds ahead of pink jersey Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), who finished third.
Astana’s Roman Kreuziger made amends for a huge time loss on Wednesday’s stage 17, winning today’s 198km stage from Treviso to Alpe Pampeago. The 26-year-old Czech bridged up to what was left of the day’s main break, only to drop them on the final climb, then holding off a hard-chasing group of GC contenders.
But just behind him the real race for this year’s Giro was taking form, with Hesjedal pulling away from the other favorites near the final summit.
While Hesjedal’s rivals for GC were all saying they’d need to attack him today to win the overall, it was the Canadian who delivered the fatal attack in the end.
“The legs felt good there at the end. I have to take advantage of the situation,” he said. “Today was hard, tomorrow is going to be harder. The team is supporting me. Everything is possible.”
He now trails Purito by just 17 seconds overall, in what was a huge gain with the individual time trial still to come on Sunday – as he is widely expected to gain big time on the other favorites in that stage.
“I wanted to attack today, but I couldn’t,” admitted Rodríguez. “When [Michele] Scarponi went, I could follow. I was suffering but I was OK. When Ryder went, I knew I couldn’t match his tempo and I had to ride my own pace. I am glad to still have the pink jersey.”
Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) started a flurry of attacks on the leader’s group, all of which were matched by Hesjedal first, then the Spaniard and eventually Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale). But then Hesjedal attacked, bringing Scarponi with him but gapping the others.
Scarponi, who finished fourth on the day, leapfrogged over Basso into third overall, 1:39 behind.
Soon after Hesjedal would attack again and drop Scarponi, pulling away for good for second place.
The big loser of the day was Basso. Placed third overall, at 1min 22sec back in the overall standings before the start of the day’s action, the Italian came home 40sec behind Hesjedal and dropped to fourth on GC.
A 17-man group broke away from the peloton at the start to attack the first climb, the Passo Manghen, with a lead of almost nine minutes. On the first passage through the Pampeago summit France’s Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat) and Italian Stefano Pirazzi (Colnago-CSF) were dueling up front.
Kreuziger made a forward move away from the main pack on the climb up Passo Lavaze at 30 km from the finish, accompanied by Italian Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). He joined pacesetters Pirazzi and Casar at the 4km mark, before leaving this duo behind shortly after as he made his successful bid for glory.
He celebrates his first-ever stage win in the Giro after finishing last year’s race as best young rider, in fifth place overall after Alberto Contador’s disqualification.
“I came here for GC. Cortina was a big blow. I am very happy with this win, but I wanted more in this Giro,” said the Czech. “Today I felt better during the race and I used my anger to attack. I heard the others were coming behind. I knew it was going to be close. I was very happy to see the finish line.”
With Hesjedal fancied to upstage Rodríguez in the closing time trial, the Spaniard goes into the penultimate stage on Saturday knowing he will have to ride for his life if he is to retain the pink jersey after Sunday’s finish in Milan.
“We can only hope tomorrow [Hesjedal] has a bad day. I am going to attack if I can. I have no choice,” said Rodríguez.
Saturday’s second day in the Italian Alps is a 219km run featuring the
dreaded Mortirolo, one of the toughest climbs in Europe, before reaching the Passo Stelvio summit, at 2757m altitude the highest point of the Tour.