Froome heads into the final week in seventh overall, 4-52 down on leader and fellow Brit Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). He fell behind with 18 kilometres remaining on stage 15 and lost more time in Sappada, 24 hours after raising his arms in celebration.
“It was such an amazing experience, and one that I do not regret for one second,” said Froome, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Sunday.
“I do not regret putting everything on the line that day. Just the atmosphere on the climb, and the thousands of people who were up there. Also, for me, just taking a step back eight years when I last rode up the Zoncolan. I was almost relying on the public giving a push almost every 20 meters just to get up there. To come back here now eight years later and to win that stage, for me was so special.”
The win put a spark into Froome’s Giro campaign. It began with two crashes, both on his right side, and time loss on the important mountain days. Monte Zoncolan, stage 14, allowed for a moment of celebration for the four-time Tour de France champion.
“It hasn’t been an easy race for me. I’ve been giving it my all. It wasn’t an easy start, and I am obviously quite far back now in the GC,” said Froome.
The race still must cover a time trial on Tuesday and four mountain stages. Froome’s gap to Yates may be too big, however, to recover.
“It’s big, especially with the way Simon is riding. He hasn’t shown a moment of weakness so far, and he is only getting stronger,” added Froome.
“I genuinely thought yesterday that he might be paying a little bit for the effort on the Zoncolan, but he only seemed stronger yesterday. I can only say congrats to Simon and he’s ridden an incredible race so far. It’s going to take really a lot to get that jersey off his shoulders.
“If I gain anything on Tom Dumoulin [in the stage 16 time trial], I will be extremely happy,” Froome added.
“He is the world champion time triallist, so I do not expect to gain anything on him. I am going to give it everything I’ve got, and take it from there. I am not going to expect anything from the rest of this Giro.”
Yates’ pink jersey ride is heading towards Rome, where he could become the race’s first British winner. Froome was the favourite to win the 101st edition before it began in Jerusalem, but crashes led to a different outcome.
A different Yates, Simon’s twin brother Adam, will face Froome in the Tour de France this July.
“They’ve become more prominent as they’ve gotten older and they have more experience,” Froome said of the English twins.
“Simon’s ridden an incredible race so far, and I can only say chapeau to him. He hasn’t showed one moment of weakness throughout this race so far. I am not in the pink jersey, but it’s pretty cool to see another Brit in the pink jersey in this Giro.”