Paolo Tiralongo timed his late attack to perfection to win the 19th stage of the Giro d’Italia, but was given a helping hand by the unstoppable Alberto Contador, who extended his lead at the top of the standings with another astonishing display.
Tiralongo (Astana) jumped from the peloton as he passed the five-kilometre-to-go banner, and as he powered up the final climb to Macugnaga, several of the main GC contenders attempted to follow.
Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) responded to those attacks with seemingly effortless ease and passed each one of them in turn before catching his former Astana team-mate and then appearing to pace him to the finish line.
After taking a long turn on the front inside the final kilometre, Contador peeled off to allow Tiralongo to take the spoils on the day.
That performance gained Contador another three seconds on Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), who ended the day in third, while his nearest GC rival Michele Scarponi (Lampre) was a further three seconds back in seventh. Contador now sits 5min 18sec ahead of Scarponi with just two stages remaining.
Wet and wild
The 209km trek from Bergamo had been a wet one with rain falling for most of the day, but Jerome Pineau (Quick-Step), Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini) and Lars Bak (HTC-Highroad) were undeterred and eventually made it away after 51km.
The trio were allowed to open up a 12-minute advantage as they pressed through the feed zone, but with Acqua & Sapone assuming responsibility in the bunch, their lead had fallen back to around two minutes as they crested the first-category Mottrone.
Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), Johann Tschopp (BMC) and Mickael Cherel (AG2R) bridged the gap over to them on the descent which followed, and shortly after the peloton was split in two after a nasty crash saw HTC-Highroad duo Marco Pinotti and Craig Lewis both forced to abandon.
The leaders would also splinter as they began the final climb of the day, with Pineau and Rabottini the final breakaway riders to be caught with just over 13km to go.
At that point Katusha were driving a high pace which ensured the bunch was strung out behind, although Tiralongo still managed to give them the slip and battled on for his first professional win in a 12-year career.