The Giro d’Italia has been blown apart by Chris Froome and Team Sky. The British rider has won stage 19 of the race with a phenomenal solo performance that saw him finish 3 minutes ahead of Richard Carapaz and Thibaut Pinot, thus taking the maglia rosa from Simon Yates; while George Bennett moved back into the top ten overall.
There was no escaping the truth that the 184km stage from Venaria Reale to Bardonecchia was going to be pure brutality to the end. Barely a flat or downhill section in the opening 41km to the summit of Colle del Lys would then drop down before the brutal dirt road climb of Colle Delle Finestre. That would still peak with 73.3km of racing remaining and two more climbs to come.
At the start of the day Simon Yates had 28 seconds in hand over Tom Dumoulin with Domenico Pozzovivo 2.43mins adrift and Chris Froome 3.22mins back. Thibaut Pinot completed the top five at 3.22mins, with Miguel Angel Lopez 6th, Rohan Dennis 7th, Pello Bilbao 8th and Richard Carapaz 9th ahead of Patrick Konrad. George Bennett began the day 11th overall at 7.06mins.
The day began with a number of riders keen to get into the early break of the day and eventually a group of 9 going up the road Rodolfo Torres of Androni-Sidermec-Bottecchia, Darwin Atapuma and Valerio Conti of UAE Team Emirates, Koen Bouwman and Danny van Poppel of LottoNL-Jumbo, Nathan Brown of EF Education First-Drapac, Matteo Montaguti of AG2R La Mondiale, Krists Neilands of Israel Cycling Academy, Luis Leon Sanchez of Astana. They also found further company in the likes of Team Sky’s Sergio Henao and David de la Cruz, Gianluca Brambilla and Zdenek Stybar of Quick-Step Floors, Giovanni Visconti of Bahrain-Merida and more.
Back in the pack Mitchelton-Scott led the way as usual, but not allowing the breakaway to gain much more than 45 seconds on the run in to the Colle Delle Finestre. The more than 18km climb saw the break fragment quickly while Team Sky quickly marshalled their forces at the front and set a strong pace on the front of the race. Up ahead Luis Leon Sanchez had broken away from the rest of the break and decided to try and go solo.
George Bennett was well positioned in the GC group, sitting about 12-15 riders back in a group that was quickly mopping up breakaway members. But drama started with just over 86km to go, as Simon Yates drifted to the back of the GC group and from there dropped off the tail end of the Sky-driven bunch. Within metres Yates had lost over 30 seconds to the GC contenders and from there the gap just exploded as Team Sky took their opportunity.
At 84km to go Sanchez was back in the fold and the GC contenders, led by David de la Cruz, piled on the pace. Other riders showing signs of vulnerability included Miguel Angel Lopez, but the Colombian fought valiantly to stay on board but progressively even the GC group capitulated until there were just a handful of riders left at the front as the race reached the dirt section of the climb.
Tom Dumoulin was there, so too Kenny Elissonde for Froome, so too Thibaut Pinot; but then at 80km to go Chris Froome attacked and was not answered. It was an audacious attack with such a long way left to go in the race but the Brit was committed. As the British rider who had thrived for the last two weeks haemorrhaged time, the Brit who had started the race disastrously was now in the driving seat and looking not just at getting onto the podium, but potentially even getting into the maglia rosa.
With 79km to go the gap was not a large one, at 10 seconds to Dumoulin and co but that steadily opened up to 20 seconds at 78km and progressively more and more. In a matter of kilometres Yates’ chances of a top ten finish were all but over as he found himself more than 8 minutes adrift, while Domenico Pozzovivo was 1.45mins back and the Dumoulin group found itself 40 seconds back.
At the summit of the climb the gap to Dumoulin was still at around the 40 second margin, but now he was heading downhill for the next 11km around a technical descent. Tragically for Simon Yates though his deficit had dropped to 11.08mins. The descent of the Finestre was treacherous, with the melting snow providing some slick elements and a number of technical turns making things challenging for everyone but the heartiest of descenders. George Bennett arrived at the top in the third group of the road with Domenico Pozzovivo along with him. Their deficit was at over 2 minutes, but with the dynamic nature of the race things could still play into Bennett’s favour at the rate the stage was going.
So with 66km to go Froome led from Dumoulin, Pinot, Carapaz and Henao. Their gap was sitting at 1.18mins, with Sebastien Reichenbach joining teammate Pinot in the group. Meanwhile the sad figure of Simon Yates was visible still climbing the Finestre, at a crawl behind his teammates. When he finally reached the top of the climb his time gap had gone out to over 16 minutes.
Froome reached the bottom of the climb with a lead of just over 1.30mins. The Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana champion set into time trial mode as he looked to make good his time gap. He’d successfully disposed of Yates, but now he needed to make sure that he put more than 2.54mins into Tom Dumoulin. Do that and the maglia rosa would be his.
George Bennett was part of six riders that included Ben O’Connor of Dimension Data, Wout Poels of Team Sky and Domenico Pozzovivo. They continued to lose time to Froome, but there was more at stake.
With just under 51km to go the gap to Dumoulin and co tipped over 2 minutes for the first time, and 4 minutes to Bennett and Pozzovivo. That climb peaked with 45km or so to go and by the time he reached the summit of the race’s penultimate climb his lead was 2.44mins and he was tantalisingly close to being the virtual maglia rosa, with Dumoulin the virtual leader of the race but by just 9 seconds over Froome.
The final climb began with about 9km left to race, but it was at 33km to go that another Brit effectively became the leader of the Giro d’Italia as Froome’s advantage grew to over 2.54mins. From there the Dumoulin group managed to keep the gap at something reasonably manageable, holding the lead at about 3 minutes. Bennett and Pozzovivo were back down the road at 6 minutes plus, their group containing Patrick Konrad of BORA-Hansgrohe; the man who deposed Bennett of his top ten position just the day before.
At the bottom of the final climb to Bardonecchia Froome’s lead was sitting at 3.32mins. Froome looked visibly tired but showed no signs of real weakness. The Dumoulin group weren’t done yet either though and they started to claw back seconds on Froome, giving the defending champion just a little bit of hope; as he knew that if he could get the gap back down to under 2.54mins he would be the new maglia rosa of the Giro.
But at 6km to go the gap was not coming down quickly enough at this stage. And then the attacks came from Thibaut Pinot. The Frenchman, who started the day off the podium was determined to do something about his fifth place overall, and it caught out Carapaz, Lopez and Dumoulin. In the group behind Bennett was sitting on the back of teh group, but crucially holding pace with the rest of the group. At 4.5km to go Pinot’s lead was 11 seconds to Dumoulin, with the Dutchman still 3.15mins to Froome.
Pinot did succeed in closing to just under 3 minutes but then the gap went out again. Pinot was eventually caught and from there Lopez and Carapaz attacked as Dumouli then showed signs of struggle. Lopez set the tempo, while Dumoulin steadily set a patient tempo to regain contact and then resume his tempo setting. At 2km to go Froome’s lead was at 3.10mins and that held at 3.15mins with 1km remaining. The line couldn’t come soon enough for Froome who had ridden the stage of his life to blow the Giro d’Italia wide open.
After 5.12.26 hours of racing Chris Froome crossed the line, a picture of delight as behind him Dumoulin continued to set the pace up the final metres of the stage. Pinot sat on his wheel with 600m to go; with Lopez and Carapaz behind him. Pinot pushed the pace with just a couple of hundred metres to go and he was countered though by Richard Carapaz who pressed on and dropped Lopez, Dumoulin and Pinot. Carapaz did a sterling job to take second place an close to within 47 seconds of Lopez’s best young rider lead.
Thibaut Pinot took third and Lopez fourth with Dumoulin crossing the line at 3.23mins. George Bennett produced a brilliant performance to soldier through the stage and cross the line 12th at 8.38mins. Despite the large time gap to Froome there was reason to smile for Bennett as he made his way from 11th overall to 9th. The top three on GC was now Chris Froome, 40 seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin and 4.17mins ahead of Thibaut Pinot, with Miguel Angel Lopez and Richard Carapaz 4th and 5th. Froome’s stage win not only secured him the overall lead, but also the lead in the KOM classification.
Eventually Simon Yates crossed the line, 38.51mins back, dropping from 1st to 18th place.