Steven Kruijswijk relinquished the pink jersey to Esteban Chaves on a gruelling day at the Giro d'Italia
You’ve got to feel sorry for Kruijswijk
It was pretty heartbreaking watching Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) struggle up the climb to Risoul, knowing that he was slipping out of the leader’s jersey with every pedal stroke.
The Dutchman suffered the most untimely of crashes, skidding into a bank of snow at the start of the descent from the Colle dell’Agnello, flipping onto his back and then losing time as he tried to fix his bike.
Meanwhile his rivals took advantage of his misfortune and escaped down the hill as Kruijswijk fiddled with the chain and brakes on his bike.
From that moment on, Kruijswijk was pretty much on his own, exerting huge amounts of energy to limit his losses. He climbed much of the ascent to Risoul with Simon Clarke, but the Cannondale rider did little but sandbag the maglia rosa before dropping off.
It’s not unheard of for a rider to make up over a minute on the final mountain stage, but with his rivals riding so well and with Kruijswijk digging so deep on stage 19 it’s hard to imagine the underdog will win this one.
Chaves continues the fairytale by moving into pink
Chaves knows what to do in the leader’s jersey of a Grand Tour, having worn red at the Vuelta a España last year, but the Colombian has never led this deep into the race.
It would be a remarkable win if the diminutive Chaves could win the Giro tomorrow, given that he was told just three years ago that he wouldn’t be able to race his bike ever again.
Several doctors told him the same thing after he damaged nerves in his right arm, but Chaves refused to lay down. Instead he found a doctor who said he would race again and let him do his work.
Three years on and Chaves is on the brink of winning his first Grand Tour in a team that isn’t exactly built for general classification riding. The little fella is adored by his Orica teammates, who have buried themselves over the last three weeks to get him to this position.
Fourty-four seconds is a handy advantage over Nibali, but as was shown on stage 19 the Italian is more than capable of riding away on an ascent.
Nibali finally finds some form
Nibali had tests done in the third week to discover whether there was a medical reason for his drop in performance in the mountain stages.
Everything obviously came back all clear given the Italian’s storming performance on stage 19, riding away from Chaves on the climb to Risoul.
It’s a climb Nibali knows well, having extended his lead in the 2014 Tour de France in Risoul, finishing second to breakaway rider Rafal Majka and putting a minute into Alejandro Valverde in second place.
Valverde suffered again today, getting dropped on the Agnello and failing to make any inroads into Nibali and Chaves on the descent or the final climb. In the process he lost his place on the podium in his first Giro and now needs to find 43 seconds on Kruijswijk to get back into the top three.
Nibali, meanwhile, will be relishing the sheer amount of climbing there is on stage 20, but it could come down to the short-ish climb to the finish for Nibali to get the time back he needs on Chaves.
The scary moment for Ilnur Zakarin
Just minutes after seeing Kruijswijk’s Giro hopes go up in a puff of white powder (snow…) the cameras panned to Ilnur Zakarin laying motionless well off the side of the road.
Many feared the worst, or at least worse than it is reported to have turned out, with the Russian apparently ‘only’ suffering a collarbone injury in what must have been a horrific crash.
Somewhat thankfully we didn’t see exactly what happened to Zakarin, but he was laying a good few metres off the side of the road next to a river, with his bike even further away. At first it looked as if he wasn’t moving at all, but then he moved his legs as medics made their way to him.
Zakarin was sitting fifth in the GC, somewhat remarkably given the amount of time he had spent picking himself up from crashes over the course of the three weeks. He had four spills on the Chianti time trial alone, but this one was enough to end his race.
Scarponi climbs to the Cima Coppi
Katusha’s Jacopo Guarnieri told Cycling Weekly that Michele Scarponi (Astana) is the funniest rider in the peloton, but it was strictly business for the veteran Italian on stage 19.
When the breakaway eventually got away, the 2011 Giro winner forced his way out the front on the Agnello climb and wheeled across the border into France at the summit a little bit richer, having claimed the Cima Coppi prize for the rider first to the top of the race’s highest point.
He couldn’t relax there, though, as teammate Nibali hared down the descent a few minutes behind, meaning Scarponi was about to play a key role in helping the Shark push the sword deeper into the ailing Kruijswijk.
It wasn’t as game-changing a climb by Scarponi as the one he put in on stage 14 when he forced then pink jersey wearer Andrey Amador off the back of the peloton on the Passo Giau.
Instead, Scarponi did his bit and then let Nibali get down to work. The wily old Italian will certainly play a part if Nibali is to pull off the remarkable comeback on stage 20.