Stage 19 did not deliver a definitive winner of the 2012 Giro d’Italia, but it did deliver a lot of action. Astana’s Roman Kreuziger, who saw his General Classification hopes evaporate when he cracked in Stage 14, salvaged something from the race by attacking 25 km from the finish line and outlasting the rest of the field to take his first Grand Tour stage win.
The 26-year-old Czech rider attacked on the penultimate climb of the day, the Cat 2 Passo Lavaze, joining with two riders from the breakaway, Omega Pharma-Quickstep’s Serge Pauwels and Dario Cataldo, for the next 20 kilometers. Then halfway up the second climb up the Passo Pampeago, Kreuziger accelerated away and finished the race on his own, holding off the charging GC leaders.
“I am happy with my first victory in a Grand Tour,” Kreuziger told velonation.com. “I didn’t break off on the first climb up to Pampeago but waited until the Lavazè, knowing that it was a long and arduous climb. Luckily the two Omega riders had their minds on the classification and we managed to come to a good understanding to keep the break going.
“On the second time up to Pampeago I was aware that the pink jersey group was cutting the gap and I only knew I would win when I was 200 meters from the line.”
Ryder Hesjedal, the man the rest of the GC contenders marked as the greatest threat, managed to gain 13 seconds on race leader Joaquim Rodriguez. Rodriguez and Michele Scarponi said before the stage that they planned to—needed to—take some time out of Hesjedal, who is the best time-trialer of the top four. Instead, the Garmin-Barracuda rider proved the strongest.
“The legs felt good there at the end. I have to take advantage of the situation,” he said. “Today was hard, tomorrow is going to be harder. The team is supporting me. Everything is possible.”
Hesjedal could still crack on Stage 20’s titanic climbs, and lose his advantage, but if he can simply hand with race leader Rodriguez, the young Garmin rider should have his first Grand Tour victory.
Race leader Joaquim Rodriquez of Katusha and pre-race favorite Ivan Basso of Liquigas, both said the same thing to cyclingnews.com after the stage: “We were supposed to drop Ryder Hesjedal but it’s been the opposite.”
“Hesjedal gave us a lesson,” added Rodriguez. “He has surprised me, really. I was on his wheel when he attacked and I preferred to follow the more regular rhythm of [Domenico] Pozzovivo. That was hard enough. It’s going to be difficult to beat Hesjedal for the overall win. Now the Giro is in his hands. If he doesn’t make any mistake tomorrow, he’ll be the winner.”
“I still have the pink jersey,” Rodriguez concluded. “I’m still up there, so are Scarponi and Basso who haven’t lost all chance to win the Giro. Anything can happen on the Stelvio. That final climb will make a difference. It’s going to be difficult to recover some time over Hesjedal but the Mortirolo has put some big champions into troubles before.”
Basso seemed equally resigned. “Hesjedal has shown he is the strongest. When someone is the strongest, we only have to congratulate him. When I understood my limits for today, I went at my own rhythm. [Michele] Scarponi’s three attacks put me in difficulty. I haven’t managed to make the difference that I wanted. As I couldn’t do what I planned this morning, it shows the merit of my adversaries.”
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