Chris Froome (Team Sky) rode a stage that will go down into history as he attacked solo with over 70km to go, taking Stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia to the Jafferau and overturning a 3 minute deficit to ride into the pink jersey.
After his chances of victory were discounted by many, Froome turned around a difficult first two weeks, taking the race by the scruff of the neck on the lower slopes of the Colle delle Finestre, leaving all of his General Classification rivals behind. Going solo, he built a 3 minute gap at Sestriere and never looked back.
With just one stage left before Rome, Froome now finds himself in the race lead for the first time leading second placed Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb). Destruction to the top 10 behind also saw Thibaut Pinot propel back onto the podium with Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) losing considerable time.
The pink jersey at the day’s start was Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) who empathetically fell from grace, blowing on the slopes of the Colle delle Finestre quickly haemorrhaging time as he quickly disappeared from memory. He came so close but it all proved two days too far.
How the stage unfolded
Stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia was going to be definitive. In 184km, the peloton would race from Venaria Reale to Bardonecchia tackling the Colle delle Finestre, Sestriere before finishing atop the Jafferau, climbs that have offered so much to cycling.
Yates would be on the defensive having conceded half of his overall lead the day previous to Dumoulin. The likes of Froome, Lopez and Pozzovivo had no choice but to attack.
The peloton started the day at blistering pace. From the start, the likes of Astana, UAE Team Emirates and Movistar are active pushing the pace and attempting to send riders up the road. This sees around 50 riders immediately distanced from proceedings, they were going to have a long day ahead.
Strong climbers such as Davide Formolo, Carlos Betancur, and Sergio Henao all chance their luck but the pace is just to vicious.
Team Sky kept towards the head of affairs ominously, as if they were plotting something big. Meanwhile a small group of 14 established a reasonable gap of 20 seconds.
Mitchelton-Scoot assumed the role of chasers as they were absent of any riders in the lead group. Sam Bewley and Chris Juul-Jensen were put to work by Yates.
The Team Sky train that we know and, erm, love began to set the pace up the lower slopes on Finestre. Puccio, Ellisonde, De La Cruz, Henao and Poels all in line with Froome at the back.
The pace is too much for Yates, he cracks. Mikel Nieve sits up and waits but Yates can see the maglia rosa riding away down the road. How cruel but what proof of how hard the Giro is. Yates looked untouchable all of 48 hours previous.
It was 30 seconds, then a minute, the two. Yates had cracked and his dream of pink was over. The cruel ways of Grand Tour veterans Dumoulin and Froome kicked in as they turned the screw. Yates was disappearing from the top 10 let alone the lead.
Like the Team Sky of old, they were destroying people on the climb. Pozzovivo was first to crack then Pinot, Dumoulin and Richard Carapaz. Lopez also managed to bridge across.
Froome then went solo. It was now or never for the four-time Tour de France champion who left his teammates who crested Finestre, this year’s Cima Coppi, solo with a gap of 47 seconds to the chasing five.
Descending like no other, Froome extended his gap out to 90 seconds with it eventually reaching 2 minutes by the base of Sestriere. Behind, Yates was now 20 minutes adrift causing the television to stop its live updates of the fallen pink jersey.
Behind, Pinot had been joined by Sebastien Reichenbach who was deployed to the front with Dumoulin, Lopez and Carapaz all in tow. Ducking under the 50km to go marker, Froome had a 2 minute 29 gap and was now just 45 seconds from the virtual lead.
Dumoulin, however, was staying calm taking turns with Reichenbach slowly cranking the pace temporarily distancing Carapaz and Lopez.
Sestriere is not the most difficult climb, and the best can climb it fast. Froome was climbing it quicker than anyone else in this race and was holding the gap. Was he going to do it? Froome has been thrown to the wayside so early on after a shocking first week.
I, personally, saw no chance for him. I guess fool me for discounting a five-time Grand Tour champion.
He extended his lead to 2 minuted 41 seconds as he began his toptube pedalling descent of Sestriere. Welcome to the Chris Froome show everyone, it appears as if the Giro only started today.
By the base of the descent, with 33km left to go, Froome had ridden into the virtual pink jersey now leading the chasers by 3 minutes. I was watching coverage of the stage in Spain today. The Spanish commentators would continuously chuckle when Froome came onto screen but what about, I am unsure.
In the hunt for the podium, it seemed as if Pozzovivo was waving goodbye to third spot siting 3 minutes adrift of the poursouivants.
With Froome holding his gap, the race hit the lower slopes of its last climb, the Jafferau, 7km at a painful 9%. He started the climb with a gap of 3 minutes and 30 seconds and he looked comfortable, as if he had not been riding full gas for the past 60km alone.
6km remaining and Froome was holding the 3 minute 20 second gap. Barring disaster, the stage was his but could he hold on for pink. Behind Pinot rode with flannuer, attacking Dumoulin who stuck to his rhythm, churning out the watts. This activity helped peg back around 8 seconds on Froome.
Pinot closed the gap to 3minutes while Dumoulin continued at 3 minutes 14 seconds.