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Gustav Larsson hopes Giro stage win clinches a Tour berth

Gustav Larsson is hoping his Giro d’Italia stage victory in Verona will punch his ticket to the Tour de France.

The tall Swede delivered a big victory to close out the Giro on Sunday, pipping Italian national time trial champion Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia), success that bodes well for a spot on the Tour Nine with Saxo Bank.

“I really hope I do the Tour this year. We have a good chance of winning with Andy (Schleck) and I want to help,” Larsson told VeloNews. “We have 10 guys for nine spots, so I guess we’ll see if the legs become better and better during the Tour de Suisse. We’ll see if I am good enough to make the Tour or not. I certainly hope so.”

Larsson, 29, has made his name in time trials, including the silver medal in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, but he’s quite handy in the mountains as well. His consistency in the big climbs will outweigh his time-trialing ability when it comes to making the Tour team, especially with the absence of a team time trial in this year’s climb-heavy Tour.

Saxo Bank sport director Kim Andersen said that the final Tour selection will not be made until after the Tour de Suisse later this month. Larsson will take a breather following the Giro and line up in the Swiss tour keen to impress his bosses.

Andy and Frank Schleck will anchor the Saxo Bank squad for the Tour, both with chances of making the podium. Other shoe-ins include veterans Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O’Grady, Jens Voigt and Nicki Sorensen, all former Tour stage-winners with the experience and strength to support the Luxembourg brothers.

Fighting for the final three spots will be Larsson, climbing specialist Chris-Anker Sorensen — also a winner of a Giro stage — classics strongman Matti Breschel and highly touted Danish prospect Jakob Fuglsang.

Somewhat surprisingly, Sunday’s win in Verona was Larsson’s first in a grand tour. Larsson was 12 seconds slower than Pinotti at the mid-course time check atop the course’s main climb, but gained back 14 seconds on the descent to win by two seconds.

“I felt really good when I started. It felt like a race to the top of the climb in terms of power. I was pushing a lot of watts, so I knew that I was going well,” he said. “It was only Pinotti who beat me at the climb. I was second on the top. I put a lot of time to him on the descent. It’s a wonderful feeling to actually win a stage. It’s my first grand-tour stage victory. I hope it’s not my last.”

Larsson’s win was one of two for Saxo Bank (Chris-Anker Sorensen won at Monte Terminillo) in what was a very successful Giro for the Danish outfit. The big surprise was grand-tour rookie Richie Porte, who wore the pink jersey, finished seventh overall and won the best young rider’s white jersey.

“We really had a great Giro. We came here on carte blanche. We were free in our role. We had no pressure,” he said. “No one really expected Richie to do such a nice Giro. He was always in the right place at the right time. He’s a smart rider. He got through the Giro pretty well. (Saturday) was when he had the most problems. We had to pull him back, we got right back in the nick of time, because later on he was feeling better. He has a big future.”

Larsson lived and trained in northern Italy for many years, spending three seasons with Fassa Bortolo before joining Saxo Bank in 2008. He now lives in Monte Carlo, but clearly enjoyed his most recent visit to Italy.

“There were a lot of really cool stages in this Giro. There have been a lot of things happening. There were heaps of crashes, with time cuts in the first week. Then the strade bianche, L’Aquila, then Corones, then the special climbs. Zoncolan is suffering at the time,” he said. “It’s also been a beautiful Giro. From the inside, it’s been a good Giro, except for the long transfers and the late nights. That’s really hard for us riders. Sometimes the Giro is more for the fans than the riders.”

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