A historic performance from Chris Froome
Chris Froome’s ride today is one we’ll be talking about for years to come.
With over 80km left until the finish, after his team-mates had set a searing pace up the lower slopes of the Colle delle Finestre, Froome attacked on the climb’s tricky gravel roads, and dropped everyone.
By the time he reached the summit the lead was 40 seconds. Was he seriously going to attempt to ride all the way to the finish on his own? When he finished the descent with the lead extended to 1-40, it became clear that Froome was totally committed.
Extraordinarily, the gap continued to rise even as behind Dumoulin worked together with Thibaut Pinot and his Groupama-FDJ team-mate Sebastien Reichenbach, reaching a maximum of 3-30 approaching the foot of the final climb.
To win a stage by such a huge margin, having attacked from such a long way out, and having ridden for so long entirely on his own, is perhaps unprecedented in modern cycling (barring Floyd Landis’ discredited, testosterone-boosted solo win to Morzine at the 2006 Tour de France). Even Alberto Contador’s famous long-range moves either saw him team up with other riders, or didn’t end in such success.
Reactions to the performance will be mixed. On one hand it’s bad for cycling for a rider still under the suspicion of an ongoing doping investigation to produce such a performance and potentially win the Giro. On the other, it’s good for the sport to see such ambitious, exciting racing and such ambition rewarded.
The charge against Froome for illegally using salbutamol remains unresolved; but the same is also true of the charge against him of being boring.
Simon Yates’ pink jersey hopes in tatters
Before all the drama of Chris Froome’s attack, the day’s first jaw-dropping moment occurred when Simon Yates was dropped from the peloton on the Colle delle Finestre.
With 86.5km still to ride, it was clear the moment he slipped back that his race was over, even as his loyal team-mates Mikel Nieve and Jack Haig dropped back to help him out. He looked totally spent, and there was no chance for him to recover with three summits yet to peak before the finish line.
Is he ill? Or simply exhausted and out of form? We’ll hopefully find out at some point, but something has obviously gone very wrong - he eventually finished in 79th, a whole 38-51 after compatriot Froome had crossed the line.
Having come so close to winning the maglia rosa, Yates will no doubt be devastated. But the experience as a whole will have been good for him and, at just 25-years old, he has many years yet to develop as a rider and win Grand Tours in the future.
For the time being, Mitchelton-Scott could yet bounce back tomorrow to contest for a stage win - expect Mikel Nieve or Jack Haig, both now unleashed from domestique duty, to go out on the attack tomorrow.
One of the most exciting stages - and Grand Tours - we can remember
The thrilling cocktail of long-range attacking, brutal racing and a total upheaval of the established order made this one of the most exciting days of cycling in the modern era.
It was like a throwback to the past, Froome taking on the role of the likes Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi, by not just beating his rivals but single-handedly crushing them by an enormous margin, with the kind of huge time gaps rarely seen these days.
And, although it feels like we say this every year, it’s also contributed to what has been arguably the best Giro d’Italia of recent years. The racing has been aggressive and exciting throughout, and with just two stages to go the overall outcome remains very much up in the air.
Will it be Chris Froome or Tom Dumoulin who wins the pink jersey? The onus is on Dumoulin to attack and take 40 seconds he needs to take the pink jersey, which will be very difficult if Froome can carry through today’s form into tomorrow.
But 40 seconds is a small gap, and Froome will surely pay today's efforts just as he suffered the day after winning on the Zoncolan earlier in the race - in which case the three category one climbs tackled at the end of stage 20 provide ample opportunity for the Dutchman to gain the necessary time.
If how the rest of this has played out is anything to go by, it’s going to be a thrilling finale.
Pozzovivo disappoints tifosi as podium race opens up
Yates may have been the biggest loser of the day, but he’s not the only rider to emerge from stage nineteen’s exhausting ride disappointed.
Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) started the day in third place, and looking good to achieve a career-long ambition to make the podium of the Giro - as well as give the Italian fans something to cheer about.
But he didn’t have the legs today when it mattered. He was isolated and dropped on the Colle delle Finestre as Sky ramped up the pace, and found himself in a group behind that consisting of his GC rivals Dumoulin, Pinot, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Richard Carapaz (Movistar).
Hope remained that the two groups would eventually come together, as the gap between held at one minute by the top of the Finestre. But eventually it started to expand in the subsequent climb, descents and valleys, exponentially so on the final climb as Pozzovivo began to lose minutes.
By the finish he has lost over five minutes to Pinot, meaning he slips all the way down to sixth on the GC, now a probably insurmountable 3-46 away from his longed-for podium finish.
Never say never at the Giro, but it seems the Italians won’t have have a rider in the top three this year, the first time this has been the case since 2012.
A new race for the podium excites
With Yates and Pozzovivo both out of contention, and Dumoulin and Froome the clear two front-runners, a new race for third place on the podium took place on the final climb of the Jafferau.
While Dumoulin motored on at his own pace, Pinot, Lopez and Carapaz sporadically attacked each other, each aware that the podium spot was up for grabs, and of how just 1-35 separated them on GC.
It was a welcome new set of circumstances for the trio - Pinot, yesterday looking down and out, enjoyed resurgent form, while Lopez and Carapaz now had something more than just the young riders’ classification to ride for.
Despite having committed to helping Dumoulin during the earlier chase while the South American duo sat on their wheels, and despite losing a few seconds to Carapaz in the sprint to the finish, Pinot ended the day in third place - but only by a margin of 40 seconds ahead of Lopez, and 1-27 ahead of Carapaz.
With another big day in the mountains to come tomorrow, any one of the trio could yet take third place in Rome. Look out for an exciting battle tomorrow.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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