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Giro d'Italia

Intxausti wins emotional Giro stage for Tondo

Basque rider comes through at the Giro almost two years to the day since his friend, Xavier Tondo, died in his arms

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IVREA, Italy (VN) — Nearly two years to the day after he watched helplessly as Xavier Tondo died in his arms, Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) won a stage at the Giro d’Italia in his friend’s name.

In Tuesday’s transition stage at the Giro, Intxausti followed the winning attacks over a tricky finishing circuit to kick to victory in a three-up sprint. He pointed to the heavens to dedicate the win to Tondo as he crossed the line.

“To win nearly two years to the day of the accident means a lot to me. It was a special day in my life,” Intxausti said. “He would be happy that I won today. I dedicate this not only to him, but to the team, and everyone who was close to him.”

On May 23, 2011, Intxausti was witness to the freak accident that saw Tondo die when he was trapped between a garage door and a car while preparing for a ride during a high-altitude training camp in Spain’s Sierra Nevada.

The promising 27-year-old Spaniard has been forever scarred by the tragic death of Tondo, a journeyman rider who was finding his place in the pro peloton just as the sport was starting to clean up.

As could be expected, the tragedy knocked Intxausti off-balance. He struggled through the remainder of the 2011 season as his Movistar team gave him space to try to work through the pain and remorse.

Even this year, he was hesitant about joining his Movistar teammates at a Sierra Nevada training camp before the Giro. Spanish daily MARCA reported that Intxausti was preparing to go alone to Tenerife instead, but only at the last moment decided to head back to Sierra Nevada. The team made precautions not to go near the scene of the accident.

Last year, the Basque rider started to slowly regain the confidence he needed to get back on track. He was tapped as Spain’s next promising grand tour rider after finishing third in the 2010 Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country). And though he’s delivered some consistent results, including 10th in the Vuelta a España and victory in the Vuelta a Asturias last year, he hasn’t quite delivered on the hype, in large part due to the momentum he lost in 2011.

In last year’s Giro, he was hanging in the top 10 until the final week, when he simply couldn’t follow any longer before eventually settling on a disappointing 38th.

Intxausti’s victory on Tuesday revealed he’s riding into the final week on a much higher level.

“It’s a great feeling to raise my arms in victory. That’s the idea I had when I came to this Giro,” he said. “My goal is to finish off this Giro in the top 10. We’ll see in the coming days if that’s possible.”

Following Sunday’s win up the snowbound Col du Galibier by Giovanni Visconti, the victory was the second in a row for Movistar. Add to that Alex Dowsett’s surprise victory in the stage 8 individual time trial, and Movistar is among the Giro’s most successful teams.

It was that time trial that seemed to spoil what was a phenomenal start to this Giro for Intxausti. After Movistar rode to second in the team time trial, Intxausti grabbed the pink jersey in stage 7 and carried the maglia rosa into the ITT. Typically solid against the clock, Intxausti buckled on the long, challenging course, losing four minutes and dropping like a rock out of GC picture.

He never gave up on his overall ambitions, however, and has slowly been picking up time on struggling rivals. With Tuesday’s 20-second time bonus, he clawed back into the top 10, now ninth overall, at 5:47.

With less than one minute separating sixth and ninth on GC, there should be quite a dogfight among the lower half of the top 10 during the trio of decisive climbing stages later this week.

“That time trial was terrible for me. I hope to do better in the climbing time trial [Thursday]. The favorite is [Nibali], but the terrain suits me well,” he said. “I was feeling good on the rest day and I knew I had good legs. I hope to finish off the Giro on a strong note.”

With Movistar flying high, the team promises to keep attacking.

“These results are important for me and for my team,” he said. “They’ve really believed in me and given me the support I needed. To win this stage, we are all very content.”

Intxausti wants to pay back Movistar, and Tondo, with a strong finale to the 2013 Giro.