Paolo Tiralongo celebrated his stage 4 victory at the Giro del Trentino with several of his Astana teammates. The quiet, nervous atmosphere that had surrounded the troubled Kazakhstani team in recent weeks was suddenly replaced with big smiles, hugs and pats on the back. In 24 hours the Astana team had managed to keep their WorldTour licence and win a stage at an important race.
The good news came at the right moment, as team leader Vincenzo Nibali prepares to challenge for victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday and another part of the team turns their focus towards helping Fabio Aru at the Giro d’Italia.
Tiralongo, 38, has been at Astana for six years but still has the ability to challenge for the occasional personal victory.
“I told my teammates that I’d try something on the long climb because I wanted to test my form for the Giro d’Italia,” he explained to Cyclingnews.
“I gave it everything, dragged a good group clear and then whittled it down to just three riders. I was confident for the sprint even though I did try to drop them at one point. I’d finished second at Trentino two years ago but I messed up that sprint. This time it went a lot better.”
A message after the licence problems
Tiralongo believed that his victory was also a message of strength and pride after Astana’s licence problems.
“I know me and my teammates for the Giro d’Italia have worked hard, even if there was a lot going in the background. But when you work hard and you know you’re respecting the rules, you’re able to put all the other stuff behind you. When you’re a professional, you’ve got to be professional in the bad moments and in the good moments,” he said.
“Because of that I want to dedicate this stage win to all the staff on the Astana team, all the mechanics, the masseurs and everyone else. Behind the riders there are 30 people who work for us and they all have families. It wouldn’t have been right if they’d lost their jobs because the team lost its licence.
“I don’t want to put in doubt the way the UCI works but I think everybody deserves respect. If there’s a bad apple in a family, then it's got to be eliminated but the rest of the family should be allowed to carry on with their lives.”
Age and experience
Thanks to his age and experience, Tiralongo is the veteran and road captain in Fabio Aru’s Giro d’Italia squad. He has attended all the team’s training camps at altitude and acts as an older brother and bodyguard to the young Sardinian. His victory at the Giro del Trentino shows he still has the dedication needed to be competitive.
“I think age is all psychological,” he argued. “You feel your age but you’ve just got to work harder and do more quality work and be more careful. If you want to race and be competitive, you’ve got to live the life of a pro even more. You’ve got to be really careful about what you eat, what time you go to bed and everything else. But if you’re willing to make sacrifices, everything is possible.”
Tiralongo is convinced that Aru’s youth will help him quickly bounce back from his virus and so be competitive in the fight for the maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia.
“Things would have been better without his problems because we’d worked hard for two weeks at Teide. We were supposed to polish his form here at Trentino but he’s young and from tomorrow we’ll be up at Sestriere and we’ll do some hard work, simulating races to make up for him missing Trentino. He knows the efforts he’s made in preparing for the Giro and what he can do. We’ll be okay.”