MACUGNAGA, Italy, May 27, 2011 (AFP) – Italian Paolo Tiralongo of the Astana team was gifted victory on the 19th stage of the Tour of Italy here on Friday by Spaniard Alberto Contador, who retained the overall leader’s pink jersey.
Contador caught up with Tiralongo in the final kilometre of the 209km ride from Bergamo to Macugnaga, but allowed his Italian former team-mate to cross the finish line ahead of him and the chasing peloton.
“I thank him,” Tiralongo said after finishing. “It was he who encouraged me to attack. Alberto is a champion whom cycling needs.
“I’ve spent my career working for others and it’s now my turn to win.”
The stage was raced in rainy conditions and was studded by a series of breakaways, notably the final climb of 28.2km (at a 3.9 percent average gradient).
The first peloton headed by team-mates of Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez tracked down the breakout pack with 13.5km to go and Contador moved smoothly to the front to dictate a smooth finish, pacing his ride-in behind Tiralongo.
“Today was difficult,” Contador said of the stage. “Especially the weather, it rained so much you could barely see anything.
“But I felt good in the legs and in the end I managed to overcome all opponents. Except one, Tiralongo, who last year had done everything to make me win the Tour de France and to assist me throughout the year.”
Tiralongo, 33, was one of Astana’s key riders as Contador claimed a third Tour victory last year.
Contador added of his former team-mate: “He was very strong today and deserved this victory: I did it instinctively. When you feel like it, you have to do it. Paolo’s victory is my victory.
“I hadn’t thought of helping Tiralongo to win, I just wanted to shake up my rivals and stretch my lead in the general ranking.
“Would you prefer to be remembered for your qualities as a rider or qualities as a person? As a person without any doubt.”
But he insisted that Tiralongo had “not received a gift”.
“He earned the victory thanks to the strength and commitment he showed. The important thing for me is to keep the Maglia Rosa, nothing else.”
Saturday’s penultimate stage is a gruelling 242km ride from Verbania to Sestriere that features the 18.5km climb up the 2,178-metre-high Colle delle Fenestre — the last 7.8km of which is not on tarmacked roads.
1. Paolo Tiralongo (ITA/Astana) 5hr 26min 27sec, 2. Alberto Contador
(ESP/SAX) same time, 3. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/LIQ) at 03sec, 4. John Gadret
(FRA/ALM) 06, 5. Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 06, 6. Steven Kruijswijk
(NED/RAB) 06, 7. Michele Scarponi (ITA/LAM) 08, 8. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/AST)
21, 9. Hubert Dupont (FRA/ALM) 29, 10. Kanstantsin Siutsou (BLR/HTC) 34
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) 77hr 11min 24sec, 2. Michele Scarponi
(ITA/LAM) at 5:18, 3. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/LIQ) 5:52, 4. John Gadret (FRA/ALM)
7:53, 5. Kanstantsin Siutsou (BLR/HTC) 9:58, 6. Mikel Nieve (ESP/EUS) 10:08,
7. Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 10:43, 8. Denis Menchov (RUS/GEO) 10:51