Astana’s Paolo Tiralongo took the nineteenth stage of this year’s Giro on the slopes of the Macunaga, after maglia rosa Alberto Contador seemingly gave him the victory.
Tiralongo started one of the slowest sprints in the race’s history a measly 25m from the line, and Contador – a former team-mate of Tiralongo – chose not to respond.
Contador gained just three seconds on Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and six on the likes of Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and John Gadret (Ag2r-La Mondiale), but his blistering attack to catch-up with Tiralongo was yet another show of strength from the controversial Saxo Bank rider.
Miserable day for riding
On a rain-soaked day just a few kilometers north of Milan, Lars Bak (HTC-Highroad), Jerome Pineau (Quick Step) and Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) formed the stage’s main breakaway, attacking some 50km into the 209km trek.
The trio quickly gained a maximum lead of twelve minutes before Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) bridged the gap over the first-category Mottarone and BMC’s Mikael Cherel and Ag2r-La Mondiale’s Johan Tschopp increased the numbers to six.
As the rain continued to fall hard, a bad crash in the peloton forced HTC-Highroad pair Marco Pinotti and Craig Lewis to retire, the latter leaving the race in an ambulance.
Game over for breakaway
Ahead, Pineau and Rabottini resisted the longest, only being taken in by the Katusha-led peloton with fourteen kilometres of the draggy climb to the finish at Macugnaga remaining.
Tiralongo attacked six kilometers from the finish, and the lack of response from behind played right into his hands.
Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez tried in vain to jump across to the lone leader, yet was soon caught in no-mans land between an ever-decreasing peloton and Tiralongo.
With the two escapees in sight, Contador attacked hard with around 1km remaining, and rode straight past Rodriguez before latching onto the leader’s wheel within a matter of seconds.
After a brief discussion, Contador increased the pace before allowing Tiralongo to take the biggest – and easiest – win of his career.
Speaking of his relationship with Contador, Tiralongo told journalists at the finish: “We’re big friends but the victory is important for me and for the team.”
Behind, diminiutive Venezualan climber Jose Rujano suffered, coming in over two minutes down and slips from sixth to tenth overall.
Giro d’Italia 2011, stage 19: Bergamo to Macugnaga
1. Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana 209km in 5-26-27
2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Sungard at st
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 3s
4. John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 6s
5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
6. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank all at st
7. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 8s
8. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana at 21s
9. Hubert Dupont (Fra) Ag2R-La Mondiale at 29s
10. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad at 34s
General classification after stage 18
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Sungard in 77-11-24
2. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 5-18
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 5-52
4. John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 7-53
5. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad at 9-58
6. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Euskatel-Euskedi at 10-08
7. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana at 10-20
8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 10-43
9. Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC at 10-51
10. Jose Rujano (Ven) Androni-Giocattoli at 11-50
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Giro d’Italia 2011: Stage reports
Giro d’Italia 2011: Photo galleries
Stage 17 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 16 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 15 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 14 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 13 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 12 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 11 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 10 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage nine photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage eight photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage seven photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Giro d’Italia 2011: Live text coverage
Giro d’Italia 2011: Start list
Giro d’Italia 2011: TV schedule