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Chris Froome began his fightback from a big deficit at the Giro d’Italia, winning stage 14 to Monte Zoncolan after an attack on the final climb. The Team Sky rider made his move with 4.3 kilometres remaining and while race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) later set off in pursuit, he ran out of road and finished six seconds back.
Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) took third, 23 seconds down, while Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) was a further two seconds back. Defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), who is seen as Yates’ biggest rival at this point in time, conceded 37 seconds to Froome and finished fifth, one place and five seconds ahead of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
Froome had started the day 12th overall, three minutes 20 seconds behind Yates. While he only got back ten seconds, including the time bonus for the win, he was pleased to start turning things around after a difficult first two weeks.
“It’s a really special feeling to win at the top of this climb, especially after the hard start I’ve had,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling on such a monumental climb on this year’s Giro d’Italia and such a monumental climb for the race in general. It’s just such a good feeling, especially after a really hard start to the Giro for me and the team.
“The team have been supporting me so well these last few weeks it’s so nice to get the victory today and it really means a lot.”
Yates put in a strong chase and was reeling in Froome, but didn’t have enough time to draw level. More importantly, he was putting time into his most dangerous rivals, particularly Dumoulin.
“I’m happy and not happy. I really tried for the stage win. I just couldn‘t get Chris in the final, but any time I could get on the other rivals is good for me,” he said. “As expected, the gaps aren’t massive. I’m still happy with the gap to Tom [Dumoulin] and the rest of the guys behind.
“I wasn’t more nervous than the other days, as much as I am sure that Tom is confident ahead of time trials. I couldn’t follow Froome – he went at a really good moment. He put in a really strong acceleration. It was still a long way to go. I rode my own tempo at that moment – he didn’t get a huge gap. I tried to bridge but that’s ok. I did the best I could. As far as the Maglia Rosa is concerned, it’s all good to be second here.”
Pozzovivo was satisfied with how things went. “I knew this ascent because I climbed it twice at the Giro. It’s unforgiving,” he said. “You have to save power and avoid unnecessary attacks. I tried to keep my pace and accelerate in the final part where in the past I always suffered. I tried to catch the Maglia Rosa too, but he was still powerful as well. All in all I’m satisfied with my third place”.
Behind, Dumoulin chased hard and remains second overall, although the gap to Yates has increased from 47 seconds to one minute 24. His aim is to keep the Briton – and any other rivals – within sight until the time trial, where he should take time out of most.
Pinot slips a place to fourth, with Pozzovivo moving up into a podium position in GC. He is one minute 37 back, nine seconds ahead of the Frenchman. Froome is still three minutes and ten seconds back and has a lot of work to do if he is to win the race.
The stage was constantly up and down, including three category three climbs, a category two ascent and the gruelling final climb of the Zoncolan, regarded as possibly the hardest in the world.
Long buildup to a brutal finale
Early on, Valerio Conti (UAE-Team Emirates) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) got clear and were soon joined by five others, namely Matteo Montaguti (AG2R La Mondiale), Laurent Didier (Trek-Segafredo), Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF), Francesco Gavazzi (Androni-Sidermec) and Jacopo Mosca (Wilier-Selle Italia). The septet built a lead of six minutes but chasing by Mitchelton-Scott, then Sunweb and Astana hewed that back.
Conti and Barbin were the strongest of the seven and pushed on alone, but were both caught on the Zoncolan. Igor Anton (Team Dimension Data) was one of the early aggressors on that climb but wouldn’t stay clear. Team Sky set a hectic pace, with Wout Poels doing important work prior to Froome’s move with just over four kilometres to go.
Unlike Yates, he had done a recon ride of the final climb and said that he had an instinct to attack when he did.
“I felt like that was the moment that the race was really on the limit. I felt that was the moment for me to go,” he said. “I’d obviously done the recon here and I knew the last few kilometres. The team had done a great job pulling me to that moment. Wout had done a big effort and made it really hard up until that point with 4km to go.”
Yates chased with Pozzovivo and Lopez, but would prove stronger and start inching closer to Froome.
“Even right until the line Simon was just behind me,” said the latter. “I kept on hearing 10 seconds, five seconds, 10 seconds. I didn’t know if he was going to catch me or not so it was such a relief to get into that last 100 metres and to hear that I was going to win the stage.”
Still under investigation for excessively high levels of Salbutamol during last year’s Vuelta, Froome’s participation in the race has been criticised by some. He insists that he will prove his innocence; until then, he will try to finish as well as possible in the Giro.
He will have another chance to recoup time on Sunday’s stage to Sappada, which will again be a battle in the high mountains. Like Dumoulin, he will also hope to gain in the stage 16 time trial, which offers 34.2 kilometres to chip away at Yates and others.
Stage 15 to Sappada is certain to shake things up again, although the finish isn’t as difficult as Saturday’s. Still, it is an arduous day of racing and riders may well crack before the line.