Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) thought he could never race again after crashing into a sign post in 2013. Doctors in Colombia and Italy told him his career was finished. On Saturday, in the sun-soaked Dolomites, however, he won one of the Giro d'Italia's toughest stages and moved to third overall.
The Colombian attacked with Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) to drop Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) with around 25 kilometres to race on the Passo Valparola. Chaves took the stage win and maximum bonus seconds in Corvara; Kruijswijk the pink jersey.
"Can I win the Giro d'Italia? Why not," Chaves said with his usual grin. "Mat Hayman won Paris-Roubaix, and five weeks before he had broken his arm. When I crashed, the doctors said that with my arm I could not race anymore. Now, I won a stage here, so everything is possible."
Chaves gained worldwide attention last year when he won two stags of the Vuelta a España and finished fifth overall in the Vuelta a España. It marked a huge step in his recovery, as his career looked finished in February 2013.
In the Trofeo Laigueglia, he crashed in a corner and slid to a stop wrapped around a sign post. He had trauma to the head, blood in his lungs, a fractured jaw, broken ribs, collarbone, inner ear... but the worst was that his axillary nerve ripped apart completely and the suprascapular nerve partially.
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Doctors in his home town of Bogotá and back in Italy shook their heads when he spoke of continuing his career, but he found the right ones that went to work. In a nine-hour surgery, they removed nerves from his foot to repair frayed nerves in his arm.
Australian WorldTour team Orica-GreenEdge signed him even before he was completely recovered in 2013. When he rode to fourth place in the Tour de Langkawi's queen stage in 2014, he cried with joy at his return.
In Corvara on stage 14, he moved one step closer. Even though he still cannot freely move his right arm still, he raised it in celebration.
"I cannot describe the joy I am experiencing right now," Chaves added. "I want to thank the team for everything they've done for me, not just the guys here, but everyone on the team. We are like a family. To win a stage like today is a dream come true."
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