Giro d'Italia - Tiralongo gifted stage win by Contador
Fri, 27 May 15:05:00 2011
Italy's Paolo Tiralongo broke Astana's duck with victory in stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia - thanks to a little help from a former team-mate.
Race leader Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) caught Tiralongo within the closing 500m of the 209-kilometre stage in northern Italy, but allowed his old friend to take the summit win in the small alpine village of Macugnaga.
The riders were team-mates last year at Astana, with Tiralongo a key component in Contador's third Tour de France win.
The 33-year-old Italian broke clear of the pink jersey group on the second of two climbs - a long category three ascent with a maximum gradient of 12 per cent - 6km from the finish.
In reaction to numerous counter attacks from the likes of John Gadret (AG2R) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Contador broke clear of the chasing group with just one kilometre left to ride, catching Tiralongo on the closing straight.
But instead of riding past the Italian to secure his third stage victory of the race, Contador instead paced his companion to the line, allowing Tiralongo to take the biggest stage win of his career.
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It was Contador's fourth second-place in this year's Giro: after being beaten fair and square by compatriot Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini) in stage 8, Contador gifted successive wins to Jose Rujano (Colnago) and Igor Anton (Euskaltel) in stages 14 and 15.
The Spaniard's graciousness and magnanimity will go a long way to win over the home fans, who have now celebrated three Italian stage wins in succession.
Tiralongo's triumph was born out of clear frustration; 24 hours earlier, the Italian finished fifth in stage 18 despite a huge effort to chase down the leading group of three riders.
On Friday's rain-lashed stage 19, Tiralongo succeeded in breaking clear on the final climb at the second attempt.
Fierce work on the front of the peloton - split by a crash which forced the retirement of HTC pair Marco Pinotti and Craig Lewis - by Katusha and, in particular, Italy's Danilo Di Luca, had seen the day's two remaining escapees - Jerome Pineau (Quick Step) and Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini) - reeled in with 14km remaining.
With Katusha momentarily taking their foot off the gas, Tiralongo spotted his opportunity. Thwarted at the first attempt, the Astana rider went again just moments later - and soon held a 30-second lead over the peloton with just 3km to ride.
But Katusha's trump card Rodriguez finally made his move. The Spaniard appeared to have Tiralongo in his sights before Contador suddenly intervened, countering an attack by Gadret, passing the pair of them, and joining his former team-mate's wheel.
The intervention probably ensured Tiralongo's chances of holding on - and it was a fitting finale to see the maglia rosa allow his former gregario take the spoils.
The emotional Sicilian crossed the line after almost five and a half extremely wet hours in the saddle. Another Sicilian, Vincenzo Nibali (Liqugas) took third place, three seconds down, while Gadret and Rodriguez took fourth and fifth, at six seconds.
Contador leads Italy's Michele Scarponi (Lampre) by 5:18 going into Saturday's stage 20, which finishes with the legendary climb to Sestrieres. Nibali completes the provisional podium, 5:52 down.
The Giro finishes on Sunday 29 May with a 26km individual time trial in Milan.Felix Lowe / Eurosport