Giro d’Italia – Paolo Tiralongo wins stage 9 as Fabio Aru shows intent
Race leader Alberto Contador conceded one slender second to rival Fabio Aru whose Astana team-mate Paolo Tiralongo won a gruelling stage nine in San Giorgio del Sannio.
Veteran Tiralongo, 37, picked up the third Giro d’Italia stage win of his career after reeling in fellow escapee Tom Jelte Slagter (Cannondale-Garmin) inside the closing moments of the 224km stage from Benevento.
Tiralongo had the luxury of being able to smile at the television cameras and put his thumbs up before milking the crowds on the finishing straight.
He held on to take the win by 21 seconds over Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), with Germany’s Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) – the new blue jersey after picking up maximum points over the first two of three categorised climbs – beating the other escapees for third place.
Italian Aru darted clear of Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Australia’s Richie Porte (Team Sky) on the closing straight to reduce his gap to three seconds in the general classification ahead of the race’s first rest day on Monday.
CANNONDALE CONTROL: After a frantic start to the race – which saw numerous riders try to break clear – a group of eleven finally managed to make a move stick around 55km into the race.
Tiralongo was joined by Kruijswijk and Carlos Betancur (Ag2R-La Mondiale) – both of whom on the offensive in Saturday’s stage eight – as well as Geschke and a host of other interesting names, including two riders from Cannondale-Garmin, Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal and Dutchman Slagter.
The bearded Geschke picked up maximum points over the Cat.2 Monte Terminio and the Cat.1 Colle Molella before Stagter made his move with around 80km remaining after pipping the German in the second intermediate sprint of the day.
With Slagter riding 1m45s up the road, team-mate Hesjedal – the 2012 Giro champion – was allowed to bide his time as Cannondale-Garmin looked to exploit their numerical advantage.
ASTANA STRENGTH: The Tinkoff-Saxo team of maglia rosa Contador tried to mix things up on Monte Terminio by sending Portuguese veteran Sergio Paulinho up the road, but to little avail.
Astana, too, tried a similar tactic with Dario Cataldo on the Colle Molella – but the Italian was also reeled in after his brief foray ahead. But things were very different when Aru’s Astana army took control of the race in the final 20km.
Through Roman Kreuziger, Tinkoff-Saxo had tried to set a fast tempo for Contador – but when the Czech blew out on the Cat.2 Passo Serra, Astana were able to use their power in numbers to test the Spaniard.
Aru – wearing the white best young rider’s jersey – and team-mate Mikel Landa were able to blow the pack apart, taking only Contador and Porte with them. With Tiralongo riding further up the road, the Kazakh-based team had all the cards to play.
TIRALONGO TRIUMPH: Lone leader Slagter held a 1:45 advantage over the chasing group as he started the final climb of the day – but a series of attacks by Tiralongo, the last of which stuck, saw that advantage slashed to just a handful of seconds going over the summit.
The Italian joined the young Dutchman on the descent ahead of the final rise to the finish. Aware that the maglia rosa group – following the acceleration by Aru and Landa – were closing in, Tiralongo urged Slagter to continue working.
But Slagter was cooked, his thoughts by now probably shifting to team-mate Hesjedal, a potential winner were the chasing group to fight back.
Tiralongo, however, was too strong, riding into town with a minute to play with as he sucked in the atmosphere on the closing straight before securing his second win of the season following victory in stage four of the Giro del Trentino.
“It’s a beautiful emotion for me today because I’m from Sicily and I have a connection with the south of Italy,” said the man they call ‘The Bee from Avola’.
“The principal objective has always been the GC for Fabio but it’s wonderful to get a stage win too. Today we had a great team and I managed to get in the right break. My job was to wait and see what happened. Everything was ok and so I decided to race.”
ARU REDUCES GAP: Both the pink and white jerseys were deep in heated conversation as the elite quartet of favourites powered towards the finish while playing mind games.
With the line in sight, Aru kicked his heels and managed to open up a small gap over his two big rivals. The 24-year-old now trails Contador by just three seconds on GC with Porte third at 22.
Landa leapfrogs team-mate Cataldo into fourth place at 46 seconds – but Astana still have three riders in the top five with the Italian in fifth place at 1:16.
Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) lost more time on Sunday after failing to stick with the race favourites. Uran finished in the main pack almost a minute down and now finds himself 2:10 behind Contador in the standings ahead of Monday’s rest day.
Following a transfer north to Ancona, the 98th edition of the Giro d’Italia resumes on Tuesday with the flat 200km stage 10 from Civitanova Marche to Forli which hugs the Adriatic coast and should result in a bunch sprint.