Sam Bewley will have an opportunity to secure the Giro d’Italia for teammate Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge) who is now the overall race leader after a dramatic stage 19, in which Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) crashed and spectacularly lost his lead, and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) took the stage in somewhat controversial fashion.

With a three minute lead over his closest challenger, all Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) had to do over the last two mountain stages of the Giro d’Italia was stay on his bike, and the title would be his. On stage 19, he failed to do that one thing, and it has cost him the first grand tour victory of his career. The Dutchman’s crash on the descent of the Colle dell’Agnello cost him dearly as he took over a minute to remount, and suffered further mechanical issues on the descent, before cracking on the final climb to lose almost five minutes to eventual stage winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Kruijswijk momentary lapse of concentration has gifted the pink jersey to Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) who now leads the Giro by 44 seconds from Nibali in second, with Kruijswijk dropping back to third, 1:05 off the race lead.

Even without factoring in crashes, stage 19 was always going to be decisive. The 162 kilometre stage from Pinerolo to Risoul included the highest mountain of the 2016 Giro, the Colle dell’Agnello, with the road starting to rise at the 40 kilometre mark and not pointing back down until the riders had crested the climb at the 106 kilometre mark, followed by a tricky descent before the final category one climb up to Risoul.

With the massive Colle dell’Agnello looming large, the peloton kept the pressure on from the gun in order to dissuade any dangerous moves from going up the road too early. The first substantial break went up the road as the peloton was climbing the Agnello, with some 28 riders managing to go clear and build a gap of around five minutes on the peloton. Astana, Orica-GreenEdge, and Movistar all managed to put riders into the move, but the LottoNL-Jumbo team of race leader Kruijswijk was not represented, which might not have been the most tactically astute decision on their part.

It wasn't supposed to end like this.  Kruijswijk crosses the line, with the pink jersey lost, photo Sirotti
It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Kruijswijk crosses the line, with the pink jersey lost, photo Sirotti

The severity of the climb meant that the break would not remain together for long as the strong climbers rid themselves of the rest, with Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Michelle Scarponi (Astana), and Igor Silin (Katusha) leading the way. Scarponi then managed to drop Silin, followed by Ulissi, as he headed up the mountain to take the king of the mountain prize.

Back in the peloton, Orica-GreenEdge took control of the front of the peloton, and quickly managed to isolate race leader Kruijswijk, while dropping other GC contenders including Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale). In fact, as Chaves piled on the pressure he soon had only Kruijswijk and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) for company as Nibali, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) found themselves off the back and chasing. The Nibali group managed to regain contact with the pink jersey, as more riders managed to join the main GC group.

Chaves seemed intent on creating havoc on the climb, and continued his attacking riding, with Kruijswijk looking to be the only rider capable of keeping the Colombian in check. Nibali managed to respond as well, along with Zakarin and Majka, but Valverde was in trouble, along with Jungels, who had been yo-yoing on and off the front group.  Soon it was down to just four GC contenders pushing the pace – Chaves, Kruijswijk, Nibali, and Majka, who was having a tough time hanging with the other three.

As Scarponi took the prize at the top of the mountain, Nibali found some help as one of his team mates who had slipped back from the break joined up with the pink jersey group and put in a hard pull to open the gap to Valverde even further. Behind, Valverde, Zakarin, Uran, and a couple of other riders were desperately trying to limit their losses over the pink jersey group, but by the top of the climb Valverde and his group were already a minute back on the pink jersey group.

Soon after cresting the climb, disaster struck for Kruijswijk as he misjudged a corner and slammed into a snow bank, catapulting over the handlebars and damaging his bike in the process. With his team car well back he had to rely on neutral support to get back up and running.

Showing a distinct lack of sportsmanship, Nibali decided not to ease up and wait for the stricken race leader as he pushed as hard as he could down the descent with Chaves on his wheel. Meanwhile, as Kruijswijk was desperately trying to chase back to Nibali, he had to get another bike change. Then Zakarin crashed out of the chasing bunch, but he was worse off than Kruijswijk had been and was unable to remount, putting an end to his challenge for the pink jersey.

The Valverde group caught and passed Kruijswijk, who was clearly struggling on the descent, and with 30 kilometres to go Kruijswijk had already lost two minutes to Nibali and Chaves, who now had Scarponi for company as he had been called back to assist his team leader, as well as Ruben Plaza, who had joined them after falling back from the break earlier.

There were still remnants of the original break in front of the Nibali/Chaves group, but the main race was going on behind them, as a group containing Valverde, Uran, Andrey Amador (Movistar) and Majka was around 25 seconds behind the Nibali/Chaves group, with another group containing Kruijswijk, Jungels and others around a minute behind them.

As Kruijswijk started the final climb, he had lost most of his three minute race lead, as at the front of the race the Nibali/Chaves group caught up with what remained of the break.  At the front, Nibali launched an attack, with Chaves and Mikel Nieve (Sky) responding, as behind Kruijswijk was dropped by Jungels as his day kept getting worse and worse.

Esteban Chaves has just one day in the mountains to defend his lead, with Sam Bewley set to support him all the way, photo Sirotti
Esteban Chaves has just one day in the mountains to defend his lead, with Sam Bewley set to support him all the way, photo Sirotti

Ulissi fought his way back to the three leaders on the climb, but the main players were quite clearly Nibali and Chaves. Nibali attacked once more, with Chaves the only one able to hang on to his wheel, as Nibali launched another attack with some five kilometres to go to finally rid himself of Chaves. The Colombian was not giving up just yet, riding tempo and holding Nibali at around 15 seconds. As Nibali sprinted to the stage win ahead, Nieve caught and dropped a clearly spent Chaves to take second, 51 seconds back, with Chaves a further two seconds back. Ulissi managed to hold on for fourth, 1:02 behind Nibali, with Majka leading home Valverde and Uran some 30 seconds later. As the clocked ticked away and riders crossed the line it was a long wait before the pink jersey came into view. Clearly in pain, and looking defeated, Kruijswijk crossed the line almost five minutes after Nibali to surrender a pink jersey that should have been his all the way to Turin.

The stage result meant that Chaves now found himself in pink, 44 seconds clear of Nibali in second place, with Kruijswijk in third, 1:05 off the race lead, but looking like a man whose challenge was over. Valverde had done well to limit his losses, but was now 1:48 off the race lead in fourth, with Majka almost four minutes off the lead in fifth.


Photos: Sirotti


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