Chaves takes battling Stage 19 win in the Dolomites
Colombian Esteban Chaves took an emotional Stage 19 win at San Martino di Castrozza after soloing clear from the day’s break on the final climb, as Richard Carapaz retained the pink jersey ahead of the decisive final day in the mountains.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Chaves drew a line under a difficult two years with third career stage win on the Giro, proving the strongest of a 12-man break in the undulating 151km stage into the Dolomites.
Chaves put in multiple attacks on the final climb until he finally rode clear with 2.5km remaining, the 29-year-old’s grimace turning into a trademark smile as he punched the air over the line - two days after finishing second at Antholz.
Local rider Andrea Vendrame (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) finished second at 10 seconds and will feel hard-done by after suffering issues with his chain on the decisive moment of the climb. Portugal’s Amaro Antunes (CCC Team) took third place at 12 seconds.
The rest of the break arrived in dribs and drabs before Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) soloed home for 13th place after attacking the GC favourites from the main pack.
Lopez finished the stage 5’45” down on his compatriot Chaves but recouped 44 seconds on his rivals after Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) led home an elite chasing group that also included the pink jersey Richard Carapaz (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida).
Ecuador’s Carapaz retained his 1’54” lead over Italy’s Nibali in the battle for pink with Slovenia’s Roglic a further 22 seconds back.
The fruits of Lopez’s attack on an otherwise uneventful final climb sees the Colombian strengthen his grip on the white young riders’ jersey and move within 26 seconds of Dutchman Bauke Mollema’s fifth place.
But the day belonged to the Colombian comeback king Chaves, who fought back from his last set-back with a much-needed win for his Mitchelton-Scott team.
After finishing on the podiums of both the Giro and Vuelta in 2016 and winning Il Lombardia, Chaves broke his shoulder in a nasty crash in the Giro dell-Emilia in 2017.
He famously won the Mount Etna stage in last year’s Giro ahead of teammate Simon Yates but soon faded and was later diagnosed with mononucleosis and forced to take eight months out.
It has been a long road back to fitness following that last setback, Chaves’s second place in Stage 17 the first time this year that he secured a top-10 result. Two days later, the 29-year-old went one place better to top the podium in the Dolomites - with his parents watching at the finish.
"It's unbelievable, I don't really have words for this,” an emotional Chaves told Eurosport after a third career win on the Giro.
“A lot of work has been put in together, all my family, my team, my friends, everyone knows how hard we've worked but I never gave up. the climb today showed that, I attacked many, many times until I dropped everyone and life is like that as well.
“You have to keep attacking, attacking, attacking until the line because you never know how close you are until everyone arrives at the finish line. I'm really happy, I cannot describe in words especially in English. It's unbelievable, you're crying, everyone is crying, it's a beautiful day.
"Last couple of years I've had a lot of difficult moments but I have a beautiful family, friends and people by my side. We all worked together and this is a victory for everyone who supported me. Thank you very much everyone."
A gentle warm-up to Saturday’s all-important final day in the mountains saw a break of 11 riders zip clear shortly after the start.
Francois Bidard (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Andrea Vendrame (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Manuele Boaro (Astana), Manuel Senni (Bardiani-CSF), Amaro Antunes (CCC Team), Pieter Serry (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Olivier Le Gac (Groupama-FDJ), Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), Marco Canola and Ivan Santaromita (both Nippo-Vini Fantini), and Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates) quickly built up a solid lead over a peloton which was happy to let the move go.
After a long chase, Italy’s Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani-CSF) managed to bridge over to become the twelfth man of the break - although he was promptly berated by his fellow escapees for not taking a pull once he made the connection.
With the gap pushing eight minutes, local rider Vendrame edged ahead of the break to take the points over the stunning Cat.3 Passo di San Boldo, renowned for its stack of tunnelled hairpin bends near the summit.
The race entered a long phase of stalemate with the Movistar team of the maglia rosa Carapaz content to patrol the peloton but allow the break to contest for the spoils.
Italian veteran Boaro attacked over the summit of the Cat.4 climb to Lamon but the Astana rider was reeled in before the final climb.
Buoyed by teammate Damiano Cima’s unlikely win on Thursday, Canola, one of two Nippo-Vini Fantini riders, zipped clear on the gentle apron to the Cat.3 climb to San Martino di Castrozza.
There was a flurry of activity in pursuit as Frenchman Bidard and Belgian Serry rode over with Vendrama and Chaves. The Colombian put in a series of large attacks but the forgiving gradient ensured his pursuers were able to reel in their illustrious companion on each of the occasions.
But once Vendrame was derailed with an untimely mechanical with three kilometres remaining, Chaves finally put in an attack which stuck. Portugal’s Antunes led the chase with the persona non grata of the break, Carboni, before Vendrame recovered from his chain issues to put in a final drive to the line.
But Vendrame ran out of road and Chaves - the smiling assassin - was able to complete an emotional return to the top with a well deserved victory in front of his ecstatic parents.
The Giro continues - and is likely to be decided - on Saturday’s 194km stage from Feltre to Croce d’Aune where four mountains precede the fifth and final summit finish of the race on Monte Avena.
While there still remains the 17km time trial in Verona - for which Carapaz will need a decent buffer over TT specialist Roglic - the Movistar rider can become the first Ecuadorian to win a Grand Tour provided he sticks to any attacks made by the Slovenian and Nibali, his nearest challenger.