Reports of Chris Froome’s demise were greatly exaggerated
What a difference a few days can make at a Grand Tour. As recently as last Wednesday, Chris Froome (Sky) looked well behind the level necessary to win a Grand Tour, losing a whole heap of time on the relatively benign climb to Osimo.
After a week of testing but not yet fatal setbacks, that was the moment it felt as though it was reasonable to write Froome off – not just because of all the time he had already lost (3-20 at that point) but also the fact that he appeared to be getting not stronger, but weaker as the race developed.
On the Zoncolan, however, Froome bounced back with a vengeance. It appeared he was on for a good day when Sky felt confident enough to put Wout Poels at the front of the peloton, and Froome delivered with one of his trademark high cadence accelerations to leave everyone in his wake with just over 4km left to ride, to claim his first ever victory at the Giro d’Italia.
That parachutes him up to fifth in the overall standings, still 3-10 behind Yates. It remains a big gap, but with a time trial to come, and Froome looking back to his best, the race for the GC just got even more interesting.
Simon Yates passes another test
With each passing day, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) looks more and more like a Grand Tour champion in waiting.
Although he had dominated the first half of the race, today’s climb up the obscenely difficult Monte Zoncolan was a whole new test. Could he handle such a uniquely difficult climb, having gone so hard for the past two weeks?
He answered that question categorically, finishing second only to Froome with a measured effort that saw each of his other rivals dropped.
He may have hoped to gain more time on Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) than 37 seconds, but that was more down to the Dutchman having a great day than Yates missing out in any way.
Many more tests await, most significantly how well he can limit his losses in the long time trial, and cope with high altitude mountains after three weeks of racing.
But for now Yates remains in pole position to win the pink jersey.
Tom Dumoulin paces himself brilliantly
Froome may have won the stage, and Yates may have extended his lead in the overall classification, but the GC candidate to have ended the day in the best position for overall success might arguably be Tom Dumoulin.
On a stage that might have severely dented his pink jersey campaign, Dumoulin only lost time to four riders, and ends the day where he started, in second place on GC.
Dumoulin’s size is a huge asset in the time trials, where he regularly puts large chunks of time into all of his lighter rivals, but the trade off is that he is more at risk of being dropped on ultra-steep gradients – and they don’t come steeper than the Zoncolan.
But as we have seen him do often in the past, the Dutchman rode intelligently to pace himself and never risk going in the red. He drifted to the back of the rapidly diminishing peloton with 7km to go, but emerged to rejoin the favourites some 1.5km later. He didn’t try to follow Froome’s explosive attack, but still managed to finish just 37 seconds behind him.
There may be harder stages to come, but certainly no climbs as difficult as the Zoncolan, meaning Dumoulin may not lose more than 37 seconds on a single stage for the rest of this race, provided he isn’t isolated or has a jours sans.
If, therefore, he can take the pink jersey after Tuesday’s time trial – which, at just 1-24 down on Yates, seems very realistic – Dumoulin would be very difficult to dislodge in the final week.
The Zoncolan lives up to the hype
This was the most hyped stage of the Giro so far, and thankfully it lived fully up to expectations.
As predicted, the crowds massed at the summit, claiming whatever patch of road was available and creating an atmosphere worthy of the climb.
And the racing was thrilling, too. After a tense first half of the climb, Froome’s attack halfway up instigated a fascinating showdown, treating us to the rare sight of each rider split individually along the road rather than in groups.
It was a real sorting out of who’s the strongest at the Giro, and as the various pained facial expressions revealed, a day in which no-one was able to hide.
Excitement peaked during the battle between Froome and Yates for the stage win. After Froome had built a lead that looked good enough for the stage win, Yates gradually began to claw him back in the final kilometres – the rapidly deteriorating gap was dramatically illustrated by a couple of tunnels, in which both riders emerged out from visibly closer together than when they had entered.
Only with a few hundred metres to go did it become clear that Yates had lost the momentum needed to close him down, leaving Froome to be the stage winner, and Yates in second to round-off a memorable British one-two.
A big shake-up in the GC
Unsurprisingly, the top of the GC looks very different from what it was 24 hours ago.
The top four consists of the same personnel, the only change being Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) leapfrogging Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) from fourth into third after finishing 19 seconds (plus four bonus seconds) ahead of him.
Behind them, however, there were some pretty significant movers. First and fourth on the stage Chris Froome and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) ride from outside of the top-10 altogether into fifth and sixth overall.
Their success comes at the expense of Richard Carapaz (Movistar), who falls to seventh and loses his lead in the best young rider’s competition having conceded a lot of time of time in the final kilometres; and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), who actually recovered well after suffering a mechanical early on the climb, and is unlucky to have dropped to eighth on the GC.
Two riders dropped out of the top-10 altogether – Rohan Dennis (BMC), who will at least be confident of moving back there in the time trial; and Fabio Aru (UAE Emirates), who showed none of the recovery of Froome and Lopez, and seems better of targeting stage wins rather than GC now he is 13th at 5-33.