Giro d'Italia - Kreuziger solos to stunning win
Fri, 25 May 15:53:00 2012
The Czech Astana rider, who crumbled during Thursday's stage 17 to Cortina d'Ampezzo, reminded the cycling world of his climbing talent after breaking away on the penultimate climb of the gruelling 198-kilometre stage from Treviso in the Italian Alps.
Kreuziger held on for victory despite a late attack by Garmin-Barracuda's Hesjedal, whose strong second place saw him cut his deficit to pink jersey Joaquim Rodriguez to just 17 seconds with two stages remaining.
Spaniard Rodriguez finished the stage in third place ahead of defending champion Michele Scarponi (Lampre), who moved above Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and onto a podium spot in the GC after his fellow Italian struggled on the deciding Cat.1 climb.
Italy’s Stefano Pirazzi (Colnago) led the race over the first four of five classified climbs, including the Cat.1 Passo Manghen climb and the first of two ascents of the Passo Pampeago.
Pirazzi, who moved up to second place in the blue jersey mountains competition, was part of an initial 17-man breakaway that broke clear of the peloton 16km into the demanding stage.
Kreuziger solos to win
The leading duo held a lead of three and a half minutes as they started the penultimate climb of the day, the Cat.2 Passo di Lavaze, with 30km remaining.
Back in the bunch it was the Liquigas team of Basso setting a fast pace, closely monitored by Hesjedal and his Garmin team-mates. Astana sent Kevin Seeldraeyers up the road to prepare the way for Kreuziger, who launched his attack with 24km remaining.
With Kreuziger having dropped out of the top ten after his dramatic implosion on the Passo Giau on Thursday, the main favourites let the 26-year-old Czech ride clear.
The leading duo were caught by two other riders from the initial break – Emanuele Sella (Androni Giocattoli) and Thomas Rohregger (RadioShack Nissan) – on the run-in to the final ascent, and the quartet started the second climb of the Passo Pampeago with a lead of 1:15 over the chasing trio.
Both Rohregger and Sella, winner in Alpe di Pampeago in 2008, could not keep up with Casar and Pirazzi, while further back Kreuziger had dropped both Cataldo and Pauwels.
A spirited Kreuziger caught Casar inside the closing 4km and then passed Pirazzi with 3km left to the summit.
But the main action was taking place a bit further down the road, where the battle for the GC was blown wide open by a series of attacks by Scarponi.
Each attack by the Lampre rider shed swathes of riders – but it was the third attack which saw the pink jersey Rodriguez distanced, along with Basso, Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago) and the white jersey Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky).
Only Hesjedal could keep up with Scarponi’s surges – and the 31-year-old Canadian then launched his own decisive move, 2km from the finish.
With Scaponi dropping back, Hesjedal had his sights on Kreuziger, whose lead had dropped from minutes to seconds.
Kreuziger looked a picture of pain as he fought his way through what seemed like an interminable final kilometre, but the former Liquigas rider held on for the biggest win of his career – and his first in a Grand Tour.
Hesjedal crossed the line 17 seconds down on Kreuziger, while race leader Rodriguez passed Scarponi to take third place, 11 seconds behind his Canadian rival.
Scarponi took fourth two seconds back, with Pozzovivo arriving on his own to take fifth, 43 seconds down on the stage winner. Basso, who struggled with the constant attacks in what was a thrilling finale, took sixth place, 55 seconds down, two seconds ahead of Uran.
Hesjedal is now just 19 seconds behind Rodriguez in the overall standings, with two stages left to race. Scarponi rises to third in the GC, 1:39 down, while Basso drops to fourth, at 1:45.
Sunday’s 219km stage from Caldes to Passo Dello Stelvio has been billed as the race’s queen stage and features five classified climbs, including the brutal Cat.1 Mortirolo and the final summit climb up the Stelvio – the highest finish of any Grand Tour.
The Giro concludes on Sunday with a 30km time trial in Milan.Felix Lowe - on Twitter @saddleblaze / Eurosport