Alberto Contador said that he let Paolo Tiralongo win stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia to repay the Italian domestique for all the work he did for him during the 2010 Tour de France, when they both rode for the Astana team.
Contador, now of Saxo Bank-SunGard, danced up the final part of the climb, passing several late attackers including Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) but then eased when he caught the Italian Tiralongo and let him cross the line first. He still finished a few seconds ahead of his overall rivals and collected a 12-second time bonus to extend his overall lead on Michele Scarponi to over five minutes.
"I'm really happy that Tiralongo won because last year a lot of my wins where thanks to the work he did for me," Contador said.
"He helped me win the Tour de France and I consider him a good friend because we always got on well. I didn’t chase down the other riders to help him win, I just accelerated on the climb because I felt good."
Contador laughed off suggestions that he was the Father Christmas of the Giro d'Italia after giving away four possible stage victories to other riders. He also explained why he is no cannibal.
"I think it's important to always follow what your heart and your body tells you," Contador said.
"Tiralongo won thanks to his strength and hard work today. He's attacked several times during the Giro and tired to get in long breakaways. Today it finally worked out and I'm happy for him. I've got enough time overall and so there was no need for me to win the stage."
Just two stages separate Contador from overall victory in the Giro d'Italia, but he and his Saxo Bank-SunGard team appear to be in total control of the race.
Saturday's 20th stage is a 240km marathon from Verbania on the shores of Lago Maggiore to the Sestriere ski resort. The first 195km are virtually flat, but then the riders face the Colle delle Finestre climb. It is 18.45km long, with the final eight kilometres on a dirt track that twists to the very peak of the Italian Alps.
The climb was first covered in 2005 when Paolo Savoldelli and Gilberto Simoni battled for overall victory in the Giro. Savoldelli struggled on the climb but managed to regain time on the run-in to Sestriere and won the Giro by just 28 seconds.
Ready for the Colle delle Finestre
Contador is hoping to keep his rivals under control so that Sunday's final 26km time trial stage in Milan will be a victory procession.
"Tomorrow the most important thing is to keep the maglia rosa. I'd like to keep the time gaps I've got on the other riders so that I can ride the time trial relaxed and in control," Contador said.
"It's going to be a testing stage because I'm sure that the likes of Scarponi and Rujano will try and attack to either win the stage or gain time for the overall classification. I'm focused on getting to Milan in the maglia rosa."