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Giro’09 St.19: Sastre Strikes Again
Race Report: This battle on Mount Vesuvius was to be the last chance in the 2009 Giro to knock Denis Menchov out of the race leadership. While Carlos Sastre had solo plans to take an epic solo win, the battle of Di Luca and Menchov was one for the ages. Read on!

Stage 19 - Friday, May 29: Avellino - Vesuvio, 164km

With barely 20km in the books, after a few different combinations attempted to get away, the duo of Mauro Facci (Quick Step) and Yuriy Krivtsov (AG2R La Mondiale) managed to get it right and were off like a prom dress. And that’s the way it stood all day as the GC didn’t fear the two up front, and lazily kept the break under manageable circumstances.

One more big mountaintop finish to go!

I think most fears were instigated by Vesuvius herself, where the real action was sure to take place. 13km of meaty pain, all upward, on an active volcano which had the skeleton of an earlier victim – Pompeii – laying at her feet. Sounds like fun. On the approach to it, it was all LPR lined up on the front reeling the pair ahead back into the loving arms of the peloton. The gap wound down and by the 35km to go banner, it had slipped under 3 minutes.

With the climb nearing, lots of favorite’s teams jockeyed for position behind the LPR team’s pursuit of the two up front. Once the escapees started the lower slopes of the volcano, the lead had dwindled to 45 seconds. The fat lady was warming up her pipes in regards to these two.

Denis Menchov started and finished the day on top of the overall heap.

Breakaway neatly tucked back into the fold, it was LPR and Liquigas at the front, with the chemical green team launching the first probing barb of the final climb, sending Valerio Agnoli up the road. A Lampre rider – Paolo Tiralongo – took his leave of the group as well in search of his compatriot ahead. The Lampre rider joined, then gapped the Liquigas rider holding on to a tenuous 8 second lead.

Basso took off next, and the astute and spindly Stefano Garzelli went along as well. Finally and somewhat predictably, Di Luca flexed and took the nose of the chasing bunch, but Menchov had the measure of him. Behind, the peloton erupted and blew to bits. The players to the fore, the pretenders to the door. Leipheimer showed his face at the front in a semi-attack, which basically brought the group back up to Basso and Garzelli, but Ivan dug again to go solo out front. Waiting for his moment, Carlos Sastre went across next, neatly pedaling up to Basso in short order. It seems he likes to ride out front at tempo on the more significant climbs, rather than with the surges of the chasing group - so off he went.

The chase group reformed and numbered about 20, and after a brief rest (as a Cervelo rider blocked for his captain up ahead), Garzelli shot out front again, green jersey and all.

Basso and Sastre were ahead, baring their teeth under the effort. Until about 5 to go when Sastre created a gap on Basso. Behind, Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) and David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) got away together and for some reason Astana led the bunch to keep the tempo up. Pellizotti saw a chance and made a hard dig that drew out Di Luca and Menchov, and the trio briefly sparred ahead of the peloton.

Di Luca jumped next, and Menchov marked him. Then “The Killer” went once more, constantly probing the Russian’s defense for a weakness but there wasn’t one. Pelozotti countered the Di Luca move, and managed to free himself of the battle. The dropped Basso waited up for his teammate and the two labored together until Basso fell off Pellizotti’s wheel.

Di Luca again threw the house at Menchov behind, but the Russian wouldn’t have it. The tifosi were thick and vocal all around their heroes, jamming up the roads and making for a few sketchy moments. Lots of Italians in the mix up front, though led on the day by a lone Spaniard. Di Luca again in the last k threw on 4th and long. Alas, into triple coverage it would seem, as Menchov had every move Di Luca made covered. But hats off to Di Luca for literally trying everything he could to shake the Russian. An epic battle on the volcano, mano e mano.

Ahead a tired Sastre spread his arms in victory after 4 and a half hours in the saddle. Pellizotti managed to stay ahead for 2nd place, and Di Luca sprinted for 3rd, with the wobbling Russian right on his wheel. When all was said and done and 3rd place earning him a time bonus, Di Luca was 17 seconds behind.

With only the Time Trial left as a place to gain time, it would seem Menchov has the affair in hand, but one never knows. Perhaps a Fignon/Lemond-esque moment awaits us. But one thing is for certain, this centenary Giro has been jam packed with action!

Stage 19 Results
1 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team 4.33.23 (35.993 km/h)
2 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 0.21
3 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini 0.30
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank
5 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas 0.35
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0.53
7 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale 1.14
8 Serge Pauwels (Bel) Cervelo Test Team 1.15
9 Jose Serpa (Col) Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli
10 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone - Caffe Mokambo

General Classification After 19 Stages
1 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 81.13.55
2 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini 0.18
3 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 1.39
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team 2.40
5 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas 3.33
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 4.55


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