Roman Kreuziger (Astana) won stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia at l'Alpe di Pampeago, an uphill finish steeped in the legend of Marco Pantani, but he didn't look like a happy man despite preceding the riders still in contention for the overall victory: Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF Inox) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale).
After finishing fifth overall and best young rider at the Giro last year, Kreuziger lined up in Denmark with the aim of a spot on the final podium. Former Tour of Flanders winner and Eurosport expert Jacky Durand stated in the first days of the race that the 26-year-old Czech was the hot favorite. He lost any hope of doing well on general classification, however, when he went into crisis during stage 17 in the Passo Giau and finished 11:26 down on Rodriguez at Cortina d'Ampezzo. The Astana rider found it hard to come to terms with his failure.
"What happened on that day is difficult to digest," Kreuziger said in the Val di Fiemme, the famous snow paradise of the Dolomites that will host the Nordic skiing world championships next year. "For sure I came to the Giro to get a good result on GC. I lost morale at Cortina. Today's stage win shows that my spirit is intact but it cannot bring me the same satisfaction as finishing in the top three of the Giro d'Italia."
The Astana team's founder Alexandre Vinokourov, who confirmed that he'll ride the Dauphiné next week and the Tour de France, visited the Giro at l'Alpe di Pampeago and welcomed the performance of his teammate. "This is the response of a true champion," the Kazakh said.
After stage 17, Astana's directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli had expressed his disappointment. "In his two-year contract with Astana, he has only won a stage of the 2010 Giro del Trentino," Martinelli said. "We expected more from him. I'm disappointed."
Asked about the possibility of a stage win at one of the two big mountain stages, Martinelli answered: "We didn't bring Kreuziger for a stage win. We brought him for the podium. We got the stage win we wanted with Paolo Tiralongo." With two stages remaining, Kreuziger is 17th overall, 12:21 behind Giro leader Joaquim Rodriguez.
"Vinokourov is one of my true friends who sent me a message at Cortina, saying: don't worry, it happens," Kreuziger said, even though he still doesn't understand what happened.
However, he fought hard to impose himself at Alpe di Pampeago. "I felt good as long as I was with Dario Cataldo, but when I was alone, I found it hard to breathe and I got the info that Hesjedal was coming across strongly," the Czech said.
"Yesterday, the first 40 kilometres had been very hard for me," Kreuziger said. "I was close to pulling out. Only thanks to my teammates, I completed the course. I suffered muscular pain and I'll undergo exams after the Giro. But in any case, I'm not going to ride the Tour de France this year. Last year's experience showed me how difficult it is to do both Giro and Tour. For sure, I'll ride the Tour of Poland, the Olympic Games, Klasika San Sebastian and the Vuelta a Espana."