Some pros can ride an entire career without ever experiencing the taste of victory.
That certainly seemed to be the case for Italian veteran Paolo Tiralongo, who had never stood atop the podium during his 12-year professional career going into last year’s Giro d’Italia.
In the closing days of the Giro, he finally got that elusive win, when he won stage 19 to Macugnaga, but it came with a minor asterisk. By most accounts, Alberto Contador, a former teammate on Astana in 2010, gifted the stage to Tiralongo, something the Italian even admitted himself.
On Saturday, there will not be an asterisk next to the win, as the 33-year-old won a mano-a-mano duel against the elite of the peloton.
“I wanted to go for the win today,” Tiralongo said on Italian TV. “I was sitting on the wheels and then I followed Lampre. When Scarponi went, I made a huge push. When I got to the line, I had nothing left at all.”
Tiralongo gave everything for the win, collapsing in joy and exhaustion as he crossed the line victorious for just the second time of his career.
Tiralongo is one of those hard-working domestiques who does the heavy work in the trenches but rarely gets to taste the champagne on the podium.
Most of his career was spent toiling on Italian squads, first with Fassa Bortolo, then Panaria and finally a four-year run at Lampre that ended in 2009.
When Giuseppe Martinelli took over Astana, he offered Tiralongo a lifeline. He helped Contador push through the 2010 season, but crossed horns with the Spaniard again in last year’s Giro.
In stage 19, at the end of the most brutal Giro in decades, Tiralongo was clear on a give-all breakaway effort that seemed to have victory written all over it.
Contador meanwhile, riding on the anger of having his clenbuterol case hanging over him, attacked yet again to prove beyond a doubt he was the strongest man in last year’s Giro.
He caught Tiralongo and could have likely sped right past him, but Contador showed respect for his hard-working ex-teammate and eased off the gas. Some criticized Contador for that, but Tiralongo was more than grateful.
“I know Contador is working hard and will come back stronger than ever,” he said. “He will be very strong in the Vuelta.”
That victory helped Tiralongo sign a contract for the 2012 season, where he is now riding for Astana road captain Roman Kreuziger.
“The situation was controlled and Roman was able to relax during the stage,” he said. “This Giro is long. I will be there for him in the last week to give [him] the help he needs to try to reach the podium.”
Saturday’s moderate mountaintop finish opened the door for Tiralongo, who dashed through with a victory beyond reproach.