“In typical fashion for the Italian Grand Tour – or a good crime thriller – the suspense builds towards the final chapters” – that’s what we said before even a hint of rubber had touched the opening kilometres of the 2018 Giro d’Italia route.
Today that premonition came to fruition: Chris Froome (Team Sky) moved from fourth place on general classification – over three minutes down on race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) – to pull on the coveted pink jersey for the first time in his carer.
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Team Sky’s GC juggernaut raised eyebrows when he attacked with 80km of mountainous terrain left to cover but held off a chase group, led by Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), to win the stage – 3 minutes 23 seconds clear of the Dutch rider.
Though the leader has changed, Dumoulin remains in second place on the GC, now 40s back. However it was a disastrous day for Simon Yates as the race leader was dropped early on the Colle delle Finestere, losing nearly 40 minutes to tumble down the standings
The 181km stage from Venaria Reale finished with a summit finale up the Bardonecchia. The jewel in its crown was the 18km Colle delle Finestre, the peak of which was the highest point of the race at 2178 metres; the Finestre itself flanked by the Colle del Lys (1311m) and Sestriere (2035m) which preceded the final ascent to Jafferau.
How it happened
The day after race leader Yates had his lead chopped in half, down to 28 seconds, other general classification contenders sensed their chance to weaken his grasp still further over the 181 km stage and its quartet of climbs.
The early kilometres saw multiple attempted attacks, but the cagey peloton chased each one eagerly and it wasn’t until over 40km had been ridden that Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), Carols Betancur and Antonio Pedrero (Movistar), and Valerio Canti (UAE Team Emirates) were allowed a hair’s breadth of distance.
Several riders chased, and once the group reached the top of the first climb – Colle del Lys – it had morphed into a selection of seven – featuring Betancur, Formolo, Sergio Henao and David de la Cruz (Team Sky), Laurens ten Dam (Team Sunweb), Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy), and Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates).
That swelled to a a much larger bunch going into the descent, as 39 seconds distance was given to Betancur, Ten Dam, Henao, De la Cruz, Conti, Atapuma, Formolo, Neilands, Antoni Pedrero (Movistar), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Luis Leon Sánchez (Astana), Conti and Atapuma, Matteo Monaguti and Cherel Mikael (Ag2r La Mondiale), Nathan Brown and Joseph Dombrowki (EF Education First-Drapac), Fausto Masnada (Androni-Sidermec), Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani CSF), Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafred0), Zdenek Štybar (Quick-Step Floors), and José Gonçalves (Katusha Alpecin)
The group was never going to be allowed to go clear, and when Team Sky came to the fore of the chase, the disorganised break began to shatter, with only Sánchez able to stay out front – eventually being scooped up as the real battle ensued between the GC contenders.
Behind, the biting gradient of the day’s opening climb claimed Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky) and Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), who both abandoned.
With 90km to go, the slopes of the 18km Colle delle Finestre were underway – Team Sky still keeping the pace high as they entered the nine kilometres gravel section.
It all proved too much for maglia rosa wearer Yates, as cracks began to show in his previously unbreakable form. By the 82km to go mark he’d dropped back almost two minutes from the leaders, putting Dumoulin in the virtual leader’s position.
Up the road, in an elite group of six containing Dumoulin and Froome, the Sky rider was flanked by teampmates Woet Poels and Kenny Elissonde. Eventually Poels dropped and Elissonde took over. When his matches were burned, it was Froome’s moment to surge clear of the group with 80km remaining.
Third place GC rider at the start of the stage, Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), like Yates, was not able to hold on and stay with the group – finding himself 40 seconds behind when Froome hit the accelerator.
Dumoulin was left to take up chase, alongside Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Richard Carapaz (Movistar). They were soon joined by Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), but with 73km remaining, the four man chase trailed behind in Froome’s wake, the gap growing to 37 seconds – which increased to 44sends at 72km as the leader started his descent.
Sébastien Reichenbach (Groupama-FDJ) was able to make contact with Dumoulin’s group, the Dutchman still doing the majority of the work in pursuit of Froome who had accumulated 1-53 before arriving at the penultimate climb of the day: Sestriere.
Notably inactive were Lopez and Carapaz – in first and second respectively in the young rider classification, neither seemed keen to show their true cards yet.
However the day was well and truly over for Yates, who reached the top of the Finestre over 16 minutes down on Team Sky’s lone leader.
At the 50km to go mark, Froome’s lead had crested and surpassed the two minute mark, gaining 2-07 on Dumoulin’s chase group, the Dutchman still proving the hardest worker in his group. And by top of Sestriere, Froome was seconds from holding the virtual lead – with 2-43 built up and 45km to go.
On to the descent, Froome and his pursuers were forced to take evasive action to dodge a fallen motorbike rider, who had become decoupled on the slippery surface below one of the tunnels. Reichenbach dropped from the chase, but clawed his way back before the start of the final climb only to drop off again.
Entering the Jafferau climb, Froome’s gap was over 3-30. That fell as the kilometres ticked by – but not fast enough. With 5.8km to go, Dumoulin appeared to lose contact, before regaining ground in time for Pinot to put in a strong effort in an attempt to drop the Sunweb rider.
With four kilometres to go, Froome’s lead was down to 2-59 – with Dumoulin a further 10 seconds down the road.
However Pinot didn’t get far – Dumoulin again forced to make up the ground, Carapaz and Lopez aboard his wheel – Lopez then attacked, the other two following, isolating Dumoulin who continued to churn away at a steady pace to come back to them.
As the trio played its games, Froome was 1.6km from the finish line, with a gap of 3-15 – a score that remained stable as he sailed under the flamme rouge – even increasing with 700m to go, to 3-17.
Froome eventually crossed the line after 5-12-26 of racing. From then on, the clock was ticking for Dumoulin. The group of four shattered, Carapaz the second rider to touch the line, followed by Pinot then Lopez.
That meant that Dumoulin, who eventually crossed the line 3-23 behind Froome, also failed to snatch bonus seconds that could help him in his pursuit of the pink jersey entering tomorrow’s penultimate stage.
Giro d’Italia 2018, stage 19: Venaria Reale to Bardonecchia (Jafferau), 181km
1 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, in 05-12-26
2 Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar, at 3-00
3 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 3-07
4 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana, at 3-12
5 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 3-23
6 Sébastien Reichenbach (Sui) Groupama-FDJ, at 6-13
7 Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 8-22
8 Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 8-23
9 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
10 Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana, at same time
General classification after stage 19
1 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, in 80-21-59
2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 40s
3 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 4-17
4 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana, at 4-57
5 Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar, at 5-44
6 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 8-03
7 Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana, at 11-08
8 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 12-19
9 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 12-35
10 Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 14-18