Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) has claimed the first win of his 12-season professional career at the end of stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia, and it was certainly a well-deserved gift from Alberto Contador, who was his captain last year at Astana.
“After a life as a domestique, I’ve finally reached my goal of winning a race,” were the 33-year-old Tiralongo’s first words after crossing the finishing line at Macugnaga. Once again with an Italian stage winner, emotion was in the air when the happy man mentioned his tifosi and his wife. “She sacrifices so much for me to live this life as a cyclist,” he repeated.
Tiralongo remembered that he didn’t spend much time at home last year as he rode with Contador and Alexandre Vinokourov at Astana. He prepared for the Giro with the Kazakh rider and was forced to leave the race due to a nasty crash during stage 6 – won by Matt Lloyd. He was transported to the hospital of Pontremoli and received a phone call from Contador, who encouraged him to fight the pain he felt in his ribs and vertebrae. The Spaniard also gave him his schedule for two months: a training camp in the Pyrenees prior to racing the Dauphiné, followed by a training camp in the Alps, and then the Tour de France, of course, where he was one of the key players in Contador’s third overall victory.
At the 2010 Dauphiné, he told Cyclingnews: “With the condition I had, I think I would have made the top 5 of the Giro.” Tiralongo was touted as a future Grand Tour rider earlier in his career. Indeed, when he didn’t race as a domestique, he came 15th in the 2006 Giro d’Italia and 8th in the 2009 Vuelta a España, but worked essentially as a Damiano Cunego’s right hand man for four years between 2006 and 2009. His experience is highly respected in the bunch.
Contador would like to have him on his side again. “He’s an irreplaceable teammate,” said the Spaniard, who will try to attract him to Saxo Bank-SunGard once his contract with Astana expires at the end of this year.
“It was Alberto who suggested to me to attack with six kilometres to go,” Tiralongo revealed in Macugnaga. “He touched my shoulder to give me the signal. He had seen my motivation before. I had tried to go away once before. This was my only week of freedom. Otherwise, I always give 100% for my captains. I can imagine that 90% of the riders are very happy that I’ve won today after seeing me racing for my captains for such a long time. The first of them is Contador. When I saw him coming across to me, I saw a friend, not a rival. I knew he would do what he could to make me win this stage.”