Benat Intxausti gave the Movistar team its third stage victory in the Giro d'Italia and movingly remembered his former friend and teammate Xavier Tondo, just two days from the anniversary of his tragic death.
Intxausti celebrated his victory by crossing his fingers to create an X for Xavi after crossing the line. He beat Tanel Kangert (Astana) and Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) in the sprint in Ivrea but his thoughts were all for his former friend. Intxausti was with Tondo when his garage door tragically crushed him against his car.
"It's May 21st today and May 23rd is sad but special day for me because it’s the second anniversary of what happened. I'm sure he would have celebrated my victory and so this win is for him, my grandfather and my team," he said emotionally in the post-stage winner's press conference.
Intxausti finished in the front group on the rain-soaked stage to Pescara which saw Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) lose time and so wore the pink jersey during the stage eight time trial. He lost it to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) but has since ridden consistently well to stay in the top ten overall. He is now ninth, 5:47 down on Nibali.
"Both the stage win and wearing the pink jersey are important to me," he explained. "Wearing the maglia rosa is very important to any rider but it felt strange wearing it in the time trial and I also lost it straight away, so really enjoyed raising my arms here."
"We've won three stages at Movistar now and had the pink jersey, that's great for the atmosphere in the team. I'm now in the top ten and if I stay there we’ll get top marks for the race."
Class and courage
Intxausti showed his class and courage in the finale of the stage. First by making the select group that formed over the steep and testing climb up to Andrate and then by executing a perfect finish to win the three-rider sprint.
"It wasn't an easy sprint," he pointed out.
"We knew that Kangert was the dangerous one. But I stayed cool, let Kangert and Niemiec do the work. Then with 300 metres to go there was a bit of a pause and I thought that it was now or never and went up the left in the sprint. It worked out well."
The death of Tondo hurt him deeply and affected his career. He won the Vuelta a Asturias last year and was part of the Movistar team at the Vuelta a Espana, but seems to be back to his best and is now inspired rather than saddened by Tondo's death.
"I came to the Giro with the support of my directeur sportif Eusebio Unzue. I also want to dedicate the win to him. This is my way of thanking him and the team," he said.
"I want to savour this win and then we'll see if I can get in the top ten overall. That’s my next goal."
Intxausti's contract with the Movistar team ends this year. He has already attracted interest from several teams, including Team Sky, but he confirmed to Cyclingnews that he hopes to stay at Movistar.
"It's true my contract is up this year but I'm happy at Movistar. I'd like to stay here and this team will always be my first choice for the future."