Having crashed out of the Giro d'Italia's sixth stage last month, Paolo Tiralongo is back at work, helping Alberto Contador at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Prior to the race's long time trial, the Italian told Cyclingnews how the dual Tour de France champion measures up as Astana's captain.
"In the evening after my crash at the Giro, I received a phone call from Alberto," Tiralongo recalled. "He gave me my schedule straight away. Last week, I was with him training in the Pyrénées. Now we are at the Dauphiné but mostly for training purposes. We have already won a stage (the prologue), we wouldn't mind to win one more but that's all.
"For two days, we have failed in letting a breakaway go and somebody else taking the yellow jersey," he explained. "The most important thing for us is to have good legs during the third week of the Tour de France. After the Dauphiné, on Monday and Tuesday, we'll stay in the Alps to reconnoitre two stages of the Tour. Then I'll go to Madrid and I'll spend one more week training with Alberto."
Tiralongo is familiar with this kind of sacrifice, taking periods away from his family to train prior to the Giro d'Italia, although his race ended in the hospital of Pontremoli. "It was a nasty crash on my head", he said. "My helmet saved my life. Four days later I managed to do my first important training ride but even now I feel some pain in my ribs and cervical vertebrae."
Tiralongo's retirement left Alexandre Vinokourov with a much weaker team for the remaining two weeks of the Giro. The Italian revealed the real race plan at Astana: "I was supposed to stay with Alex in the difficult moments of the first two weeks and when he had the maglia rosa but in the third week, with the steep mountains at the end, I was the man for the general classification. With the condition I had, I think I would have made the top five."
He came 15th in the 2006 Giro d'Italia and eighth in last year's Vuelta a España but worked essentially as a Damiano Cunego's right hand man over the past four years. At the age of 32, his experience of 11 years in the Grand Tours counts for a team racing for the win.
"At Astana, the chemistry has been great since I signed in October. A real team has been formed," he said. "Serenity is the key to success. We're staying with Alberto for one month together, enabling us to understand each other with only a look. I've never seen someone as strong as him in the mountains. He's a great guy. He gives grinta to everyone around him. He pays attention to the team members from the first to the last person. Everybody gives his soul for him."
Tiralongo insisted that Astana isn't riding the Dauphiné to win but admitted that it might well happen anyway if race tactics don't prove too taxing for Contador and his teammates.