Two battles played out on the slops of the final climb in stage 19 of the 2012 Giro d'Italia, one for the stage win and one for the overall victory. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) made a play for the stage win, digging in with more than 10km to go and chasing down the two leaders, Stefano Pirzaai (Colnago) and Sandy Casar (FDJ-Big Mat). He wasn't going to make up the time he lost earlier in the mountains, but he did gain back a bit of his pride and reputation.
In the fight for the Maglia Rosa and the overall victory, it was Ivan Basso pushing his Liquigas teammates to increase the pace. Ryder Hesjdal (Garmin), and Michele Scarponi (Lampre) were all with him, each struggling to find the legs to motor away from their rivals. Crucially, Scarponi, Hesjedal, and Basso had teammates for support, while overall leader Rodriguez (Katusha) was all alone. Scarponi was the first to test his fellow riders, making an attack that was quickly matched by Hesjedal, Rodriguez, and matched with a little more difficulty by Basso. Hesjedal made the next move, looking backwards over his shoulder to see which of his fellow GC contenders would come with him. A gap opened, with Hesjedal and Scarponi on one side of it and Basso and Rodriguez on the other. Hesjedal proved to be the man of the day, as he put some distance between himself and Scarponi in the final kilometer. The Canadian very nearly caught Kreuziger, but the Astana rider dug in and took the stage.
Hesjedal was the big winner on the day, gaining about a dozen seconds on race leader Rodriguez. Basso was the big loser, losing 36 seconds to Hesjedal and about 23 to Rodriguez. Scarponi was strong until the closing meters, and Rodriguez squeaked by at the line, meaning Scarponi's efforts earned him no gains in the GC standings.
Provisional GC standings after stage 19:
1) Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
2) Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:17
3) Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:01:39
4) Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale0:01:45
5) Rigoberto Uran (Col) Sky 0:03:21
Tomorrow is another day in the high mountains, and then the race closes with an individual time trial. Hesjedal made some big gains today, but holding them through two more days is another matter.