Movistar rider Vasili Kiryienka put in a strong performance on the legendary gravelled roads of the Colle delle Finestre climb to shed his breakaway companions and solo to victory in the final mountain stage of Giro d'Italia. It was an emotional win for the 29-year-old Belarusian following the death of his teammate Xavier Tondo in a domestic accident in Granada last week.
Kiryienka crossed the finishing line pointing his fingers to the sky after putting his glasses on to cover his tears.
"I dedicate this victory to Xavi," Kiryienka said. "He was a good teammate and he was well integrated into our team. I knew him well during our Belgian campaign in Liège. He was a good guy. He loved this life, he loved cycling, he loved suffering and winning.
"The best way to pay tribute to him was to win a stage like this for him. I'm happy that I managed to do it. I'm glad we stayed at the race while another part of our team has been close to his family during this difficult time. We've done what he would have liked us to do."
The Belarusian rider acknowledged that he had the intention to ride the Giro for GC after finishing second (to Fränk Schleck) at the Criterium International, tenth at both the Vuelta a Murcia and at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (where he also earned a stage win).
"But I went into crisis on the Passo Giau on stage 15 and I needed time to recover," he said. "Today I felt good from the start and I've done what pleases my team."
Kiryienka had some nice words also for Oleg Tinkoff, the Russian sponsor who launched a Pro Continental team under his own name in 2007. "He opened the road for me," Kiryienka said, remembering his first stage win at the Giro racing for Tinkoff in 2008. That year he was also second on two occasions (stages 7 and 14) as well as second in the mountains classification.
He moved on to Caisse d'Epargne - now Movistar - while Tinkoff disappeared from the cycling scene after being replaced by Andreï Tchmil at the head of the Russian global cycling project renamed Katusha in 2009.
"I was pissed off when I heard that Katusha was pacing behind us although they had a rider in the breakaway today," Kiryienka said. "Congratulations! A ProTour team with such a tactic..."
The man from Rechytsa, a town in the Homiel province in Belarus 280 kilometres away from the country's capital Minsk, will soon turn 30 (on June 26th).
"I have a degree in sports science and I understand something of biochemistry," he said at the post-race press conference. He'll return home on Monday to prepare for the Tour de France. "I missed a stage win at the Tour de France [last year]," he added. Kiryienka looked for the right word to explain that RadioShack rider Sergio Paulinho, the rider who bested him in stage 10 of the Tour in 2010, was "more fortunate" than him on the Bastille Day stage concluding in Gap.