Comeback of the year from Esteban Chaves
The emotional return of Esteban Chaves is official.
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Mitchelton-Scott’s smiling assassin came so close on stage 17, finishing second after holding on with all his effort to stay in the day’s breakaway.
That finish was reason enough to celebrate for the Colombian, who has been battling back from a long and difficult recovery from Epstein-Barr virus.
Making it into the breakaway once again on stage 19, Chaves looked like he might be in with a chance at redemption both for himself and for his team who have had their general classification hopes consistently dashed at the 2019 Giro d’Italia.
After repeatedly attacking his breakaway companions on the final climb, Chaves looked as though he may want the stage too much as he was reeled back in again and again.
But finally inside 3km he put in one final effort and quickly pulled out a gap as the chasers stalled for the final time.
Giro di Breakaway
Stage 19 saw the fifth breakaway victory in a row at this year’s Giro, in a race that has repeatedly favoured the brave.
The combination of a cold war in the general classification and the exodus of sprinters earlier in the race has caused a void of teams willing to chase unthreatening breakaways.
This has opened up the opportunities for the intrepid breakaway regulars, and has caused some dramatic upsets like on stage 18 when Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) was denied victory by a Damiano Cima (Nippo-Vini Fantini-Faizanè) from the escape.
Another disappointment for Quick-Step
Plenty have teams have suffered disappointment so far this Giro, but none so surprising as Deceuninck – Quick-Step.
The Belgian super-team entered the Giro with all the makings of a dominant outfit, having finished off another peerless spring Classics season and lining up with a squad of serious hitters in Italy.
But disaster struck early when Elia Viviani was stripped of victory for dangerous sprinting on stage three, never regaining that confidence.
James Knox was then plagued by a persistent knee injury and was forced to pull out and Bob Jungels quickly fell out of GC contention after star performances in previous years.
Pieter Serry looked well placed to end the Giro drought for Quick-Step when he made it into the break on stage 19 and made the final selection on the last climb of the day.
But Serry wasn’t able to follow a relentless Chaves, settling for fifth on the stage at 32 seconds down on the winner.
With a terrifying mountain day on stage 20 and a 17km time trial remaining on the final day, it’s hard to see where Quick-Step could take a victory with their current roster.
The team could leave Italy empty handed, which will be a rare moment indeed.
Miguel Ángel López makes his move
Astana’s Miguel Ángel López is one of many overall favourites who struggled to reach his potential at this year’s Giro.
After finishing third on GC in Italy last year, following it up with third at the Vuelta a España, Lopez opened his Giro with a strong fourth place finish on the opening time trial, only to slip back rapidly in the second TT of the race.
The Colombian’s rebound has brought him right back in the top-10 but he has consistently remained a long way off the podium, starting stage 19 more than six minutes down.
But as the first of the GC riders to play his cards on the final climb, López went clear and after a half-hearted chase by Landa was allowed free rein to ride to the line.
He gained 45 seconds on the GC group which, despite an impressive ride on a relatively benign climb, still leaves him 5-33 back on the maglia rosa and in sixth place, failing to gain any places on the leaderboard.
Another GC stalemate
The second category climb to the line in San Martino di Castrozza, while far from intimidating, could have been the springboard for some ambitious but unexpected launches for anyone trailing race leader Richard Carapaz (Movistar).
But with Movistar controlling the pace on the lower slopes with an iron grip as the kilometres ticked by, it became clear there was no appetite for a premature war ahead of the dizzying profile of stage 20.
Astana did take control of the group to set up their man López for his impressive if overall fruitless effort, but main rivals Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Carapaz looked attached the hip.
It was finally up to ex-favourite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) to try his luck, but the former race leader left his attack late and was shut down by Nibali with Carapaz also following with his now-characteristic ease.
The GC group of Roglič, Nibali, Carapaz, and his team-mate Mikel Landa all crossed together in another anti-climactic stage for the overall.