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 149km mountainous run featuring five classified climbs and culminating in the category 1 summit finish here Kreuziger crossed the line 19 seconds up on Hesjedal. Rodriquez came through in third, at 32 seconds. In fourth came last year’s Giro winner, Italian Michele Scarponi.
The big loser of the day was Ivan Basso. Placed third, at 1:22, in the overall standings before the start of the day’s action the Italian came home 40sec behind Hesjedal. 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. 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. Scarponi is lying third now in the overall standings, at 1:39.
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.