Team Astana finally got a Giro win with Roman Kreuziger.
Czech rider Roman Kreuziger won the 19th stage of the Tour of Italy here on Friday as Joaquim Rodriguez narrowly held on to the overall lead. Spain's Rodriquez lost time to Canadian Ryder Hesjedal but held onto the leader's pink jersey by 17 seconds with two stages remaining having started this first of two days in the Alps half a minute up on his arch rival.
At the end of this 198km mountainous run featuring five classified climbs and culminating in the category 1 summit finish here Kreuziger crossed the line 19sec up on Hesjedal. Rodriquez came through in third, at 32s.
In fourth came last year's Giro winner, Italian Michele Scarponi, who is lying third now in the overall standings, at 1min 39sec. The big loser of the day was Ivan Basso. Placed third, at 1min 22sec, overall before the start of the day's action the Italian came home 40sec behind Hesjedal.
Despite holding on to his lead Rodriguez conceded that the race was now Hesjedal's to lose. The Spaniard said: "We had to attack Ryder but in the end it was he who gave us a lesson. Now he has the race in his hands. As long as he doesn't make a mistake he'll be impossible to beat."
Hesjedal was thrilled with what he termed his "great stage". The Canadian commented: "In the closing stages I felt I still had the strength and I went on the attack. I finished very tired but I'm confident and reckon I can once again put up a good defence tomorrow (Saturday) on more very tough climbs."
A 17-man group broke away from the peloton at the start to attack the first climb, the Passo Manghen, with a lead of almost nine minutes. On the first passage through the Pampeago summit France's Sandy Cesar and Italian Stefano Pirazzi were duelling up front.
Kreuziger made a forward move away from the main pack on the climb up Passo Lavaze at 30 km from the finish, accompanied by Italian Dario Cataldo. He joined pacesetters Pirazzi and Casar at the 4km mark, before leaving this duo behind shortly after as he made his successful bid for glory.
The 26-year-old Czech was celebrating his first ever stage win in the Giro after finishing last year's race as best young rider, in fifth place overall after Alberto Contador's disqualification.
He said: "This is my first win on a big tour, I'm happy with it but not totally as I came here to make an impression on the overall standings. I know full well that if I'd been in a strong position overall the others wouldn't have let me forge clear."
With Hesjedal fancied to upstage Rodriguez in the closing time trial, the Spaniard goes into the penultimate stage on Saturday knowing he will have to ride for his life if he is to retain the pink jersey after Sunday's finish in Milan. Saturday's second day in the Italian Alps is a 219km run featuring the dreaded Mortirolo, one of the toughest climbs in Europe, before reaching the Passo Stelvio summit, at 2757m altitude the highest point of the Tour.
RESULTS: Friday's 198km 19th stage from Treviso:
1. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/AST) 6hr 18min 03sec, 2. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/GRM) at 19sec, 3. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 32, 4. Michele Scarponi (ITA/LAM) 35, 5. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/COG) 43, 6. Ivan Basso (ITA/LIQ) 55, 7. Rigoberto Uran (COL/SKY) 57, 8. Mikel Nieve (ESP/EUS) 1:18, 9. Stefano Pirazzi (ITA/COG) 1:22, 10. John Gadret (FRA/ALM) 1:22, 11. Thomas De Gendt (BEL/LTB) 1:34, 12. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM) 1:34, 13. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) 1:37, 14. Sandy Casar (FRA/FDJ) 1:41, 15. Dario Cataldo (ITA/OPQ) 1:52
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 84hr 06min 13sec, 2. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/GRM) at 0:17sm 3. Michele Scarponi (ITA/LAM) 1:39, 4. Ivan Basso (ITA/LIQ) 1:45, 5. Rigoberto Uran (COL/SKY) 3:21, 6. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/COG) 3:30, 7. John Gadret (FRA/ALM) 5:36, 8. Thomas De Gendt (BEL/VAC) 5:40, 9. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) 5:47, 10. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM) 6:09
TEAM QUICKSTEP OMEGA PHARMA
Dario Cataldo saw his chance to cut into his GC gap, and also potentially contend a stage, when he attacked the peloton with slightly more than 25km to go, and the remainder of an original 17 rider break that included his teammate Serge Pauwels, up the road. Two riders: Stefano Pirazzi (Colnago CSF Bardiani), and Sandy Casar (FDJ-Big Mat), had left all their former breakmates behind, and soon Pirazzi had also dropped Casar.
Cataldo bridged to teammate Pauwels, and they worked along with Roman Kreuziger (Astana) to chase down the break. Kreuziger, however, was too strong for both riders, as he eventually passed all riders in front of him with 3.4km to go and soloed to victory. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda), who dropped fellow chaser Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) with less than 1.5km to go after initially escaping with Scarponi and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha Team) at the 2.7km point, took 2nd. Rodriguez was third after he eventually caught and outsprinted Scarponi. Cataldo finished 15th, 1'52" back.
"Today I tried to do something special," Cataldo said. "I was scared about this stage. I'm the type of rider who suffers on the climbs with high inclination. I decided to attack, to try to anticipate the best riders of the peloton before the last climb. Tactically we played very well. Along the way I I found Pauwels, who was a great help for me before the final ascent. When I remained alone with Kreuziger to try to win the stage, I had no power left in my legs. I would have preferred a more regular ascent — it would be better for me. Beyond all, though, today it was also important to give a signal, showing that we are a team of fighters. Tomorrow is another day, the last on the mountains. If we will find the right condition, we will try again with an eye also on the GC. I really would like to conquer a place in the top 10, for me and for the team. The Stelvio is a monument of cycling, and tomorrow might holds some surprises for the top of the charts."
"Today we decided to try to stick with the two men who ride well on the mountains," Sports Director Davide Bramati said. "The objective was to recuperate some time in the standings and maybe try to win the stage if there were the right conditions. The tactic was good. Cataldo did a great job but unfortunately, wasn't able to follow the rhythm of Kreuziger in the final. Dario missed some legs today, but certainly not the courage. The goal for tomorrow is to keep Dario among the top 10 in the overall standings, waiting for the last time trial in Milan on Sunday. "