2011 Giro d'Italia, stage 19. Tiralongo and Contador
Contador followed Tiralongo over the line. AFP Photo

MACUGNAGA, Italy (VN) – Alberto Contador is so strong at this Giro d’Italia he can start gifting stage victories.

Contador dropped his rivals with a searing attack out of the GC group just before the red kite to gap Michele Scarponi (Lampre) and Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and latch onto the attacking Paolo Tiralongo (Astana).

Though he insisted he did not gift the stage to his former teammate, Contador could have easily kept on going to win what would have been his third stage of this Giro.

“Tiralongo didn’t receive any gift. Paolo won the stage with his own strength and force,” Contador said. “He attacked three times from far away and even though I caught his wheel, he was able to keep riding to win the stage. It’s enough that I defend the pink jersey than to start giving gifts.”

Though Contador might have nit-picked on semantics, preferring not to call the gesture a gift, the incident wasn’t lost on anyone else.

“One more time Alberto shows his class. Paolo was attacking from afar and Alberto showed respect for that,” Saxo Bank-Sungard sport director Philippe Mauduit told VeloNews. “Alberto was reacting to the attacks from Scarponi. He said his legs feel good and he wanted to take advantage of it.”

Contador said he was more than happy to see Tiralongo claim his first victory of his career.

“Paolo was absolutely essential to my Tour de France victory last year. He was a great teammate,” Contador said. “He worked for me all season long last year and I am glad today to see him win as if I had won myself.”

The gesture was Contador’s second clear “gift” of this year’s Giro. The first came when José Rujano glided to victory at Glossglockner in Austria. Contador also finished second in two other occasions that some have suggested were gifts, but Oscar Gatto won outright on the uphill sprint at Tropea and Igor Antón won with a winning attack up the Zoncolan.

Whatever Contador preferred to call it, his ride Friday was another impressive demonstration for the Saxo Bank-Sungard captain, who has taken time on his principal GC rivals on every major mountaintop finish so far through this Giro.

With time bonuses, he managed to squeak out a few more seconds’ lead on the pink jersey ahead of Saturday’s showdown over the Finestre climb.

“Tomorrow’s a tough stage and I think the most important thing is to defend the pink jersey and not think about attacking,” Contador said. “Today was another hard day, with wind, rain and very fast. This Giro is demanding every day.”

Contador rolls into the eighth and final mountain stage with the pink jersey firmly in control, leading Scarponi by 5:18 and Nibali by 5:52.

2011 Giro d'Italia, stage 19. Alberto Contador
2011 Giro d’Italia, stage 19. Alberto Contador AFP PHOTO / LUK BENIES
2011 Giro d'Italia, stage 19. Tiralongo and Contador
Contador followed Tiralongo over the line. AFP Photo