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Rodriguez loosens grasp on the Maglia Rosa
May 26th, 12. Maglia Rosa leader Joaquim Rodriguez found his Giro d'Italia lead halved today on the brutal Queen stage which saw his biggest rival Ryder Hesjedal claw back time.
After 197 brutual kms including five categorised climbs, today's 19th stage finished a top of Alpe di Pampeago where Roman Kreuziger (Astana) soloed to victory, leaving in his wake a scramble of GC contenders.
Hesjedal (Garmin Barracuda) was able to propel himself ahead of Rodriguez (Katusha) to take second on the stage, with Rodriguez coming home 13sec behind him.
"Today everybody expected Hesjedal to drop. Instead he gave us a lesson: his attack was powerful, nobody could resist. If tomorrow he's going to keep this pace, it will be difficult to win this Giro," said Rodriguez whose lead is now just 17sec.
The defining move of the race came at 25km to go when Kreuziger (+12m53 on GC) rode away from the peloton with Dario Cataldo and Serge Pauwels (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in pursuit of the lead group of four riders, the remnants of an earlier breakaway.
With 3km to go, Kreuziger had passed the last break rider and dropped his companions. He rode on alone to take the stage victory.
Behind him, the GC fight elevated. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) attacked three times but both Hesjedal and Rodriguez managed to close the gap.
With 2km to go Hesjedal attacked, Rodriguez lost contact immediately, while Scarponi stayed on his wheel as long as he could before being shelled. Hesjedal claimed precious seconds crossing the line 13sec ahead of Rodriguez.
Rodriguez took advantage of his characteristics for attacking in the last kilometre to drop Scarponi in order to take third and retain his lead, albeit it much diminished.
"Obviously Hesjedal now is the great favourite, today he impressed everybody when he resisted three times to Scarponi: instead, I preferred to keep a more regular pace and attack in the end," said Rodriguez.
"Hesjedal's very strong, but in Mortirolo uphill everything can happen, many great champions lost their energies in this climbing and got some troubles, so I still have a chance to take the General Classification: I like that climbing and Stelvio's too, both of them will be crucial for the overall standings."
"Today's stage will have a strong impact over everybody's shape, and tomorrow will be even harder: if he's going to make a mistake we're ready to take advantage of this".
With Hesjedal now only 17sec behind the Maglia Rosa, tomorrow's penultimate 219km stage with another five categorised climbs will make all the difference to who is time trialling to victory in Milan on Sunday.
Kiwis Jack Bauer (Garmin-Barracuda) and Jesse Sergent (RadioShack Nissan Trek) are soldiering on through the mountains, with only two stages to go until they can proudly say they have completed their first Grand Tour.
"Today was another long tough day on the bike I was so happy to cross the finish line and stop pedaling! Tomorrow we do it all again!" said Sergent on Twitter.
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