possibly the greatest Grand Tour victory for a Brit.
The 101st Giro d’Italia produced one hell of a race, with one Brit looking good to take his first Grand Tour but ended with another taking his sixth.
Yeah the doubters will doubt, sod ’em.
That was one hell of a Grand Tour, with pretty much everything, as the peloton went from one old world capital, Jerusalem, to another, Rome. Sun, wind, rain – a lot of rain – and snow – thankfully just piled high on the floor, not falling from the sky – camels and climbs… lots of climbs… big climbs.. monstrous climbs. Giro climbs.
And it all kicked off even before the first stage with Chris Foorme’s fall on his pre-race warm up /recce. Bloodied knees and some pain, pain we’d later find out was worse than he was giving away. It wouldn’t be the last poker face seen on this tour.
That first stage time trial saw the expected outcome of the reigning champion Dumoulin wearing pink at the end of the day. But the unexpected site of Froome well down, while Simon Yates only 20 seconds back in seventh.
As they went through the next two days in Israel and then into Sicily, there was small changes at the top Dumoulin lost pink while Yates moved up a few places and a few seconds, while Froome dropped down. Another fall for the Sky rider. We were told after he’d been struggling with the original injury as well as saddle sores, which required his saddle height to be changed. Now did that cause his wobbles?
It all changed on stage six up Etna though, the GC got a new look as Yates danced off from the main contenders to chase down his teammate Chavez who was in the breakaway. They crossed the line together, as Chavez took the stage victory, Yates took the pink jersey. They finished 26 seconds ahead of the pack, giving Yates a 16 lead and placing Chavez third. Froome was up to 8th, 1′ 10″ back.
It stayed somewhat the same until stage nine when Yates won his first Grand Tour stage putting more time into Dumoulin and Froome, who dropped out of the top ten. Two stages later Yates would get his second stage victory, though just by two seconds from Dumoulin, plus the time bonus.
It wasn’t until stage 14 he opened the gap up to over a minute to his nearest rivals as he took second on the climb up Monte Zoncolan. First was Froome, attacking 4k out he finished just ahead of his countryman who left the chasers with 3k to go. Froome had previously got back into the top 10 with Chevez dropping way down the standings after he blew up on the first climb of stage 10, losing 25 minutes by the end. But the following day Froome had dropped another 40 seconds to Yates.
The Zoncolan attack saw Froome climb up to fifth place, just over three minutes behind Yates, who was now nearly a minute and a half ahead of his nearest rival. It looked to have been the last shot at glory for Froome though as the following day he paid for the effort losing over a minute and a half the following day as Yates secured his third stage victory on top of a climb.
The Bury rider now had a lead over two minutes. The next stage was the time trial, the reason he had done everything he could to eke out those seconds here and there. This was a long flat TT, one for the real power trialists, Dumoulin especially, not one where a little guy like Yates was going to be withing 20 seconds as he had that first day.
Could he keep pink? Yes, he could, he did so by nearly a minute, which you would have thought it worked out pretty much as well as it could for Yates. We found it it really wasn’t that good. The next uphill stage saw his lead cut by half, he would later admit he was putting o the poker face and that the TT had taken it all out of him. The rider who had looked unbeatable in the mountains had nothing left. The cruel irony of keeping the Maglia Rosa in the time trial probably costing him it in Rome.
If he’d ridden slower, losing the jersey by a couple of minutes say, would have had the legs when it all came to a head on the queen stage, stage 19.
Sky took control of the stage a the bottom of the third from last climb, the Colle de Finestra, the Cima Coppi. Powering from the bottom in a team formation we hadn’t really seen for a while from them, they left Yates flagging and struggling. And then Froome went, with half the climb still to go and another 80 kilometres to the finish line.
This really was something we hadn’t seen in a long time and really something new from Sky. With staff lined up the climb to keep him well fed and hydrated he crested 30 seconds ahead of the small peloton of GC contenders, minus now Yates. He took another 40 seconds from them on the descent. Over another classified climb and then to the top of Bardonecchia he’d overturned the near three minute gap to Dumoulin, to now be 40 seconds ahead of the reigning champion.
This was outstanding. This was something special. The Zoncolan had been special, now it was an afterthought, a footnote. This was the best ride of Froome’s life. 80k on his own up one of the great mountains of cycling and then another couple to move ahead of riders who he was minutes behind to take the Maglia Rosa. It was proper old school bike racing.
The joy of this victory though tempered somewhat by site of Yates coming in nearly 40 minutes later. He can win this, a bit more nous, a bit more team help and he can be the next Brit to stand atop the podium at the end of a Grand Tour.
There was just one stage left, really, another mountain top finish but by the end after a few failed attempts at attacking Froome, Dumoulin had nothing left in his legs when Froome went for one last burst just yards from the finish line to add another 6 seconds to the gap.
The Grand Tours victories by Sky have been of a certain variety, one which many don’t like, of a team strangling the opposition into submission, while the leader leaves things to the final climb or a chance here or there. If Yates had won this Giro it would possible have been the best because of the attacking, dancing style with which he attacked both the climbs and his opponents.
The way Froome took the pink jersey, even if he hadn’t had the start he had, made this his best Grand Tour out of the six he has now won, with the extra special bonus of it being his third straight Grand Tour, so joining only Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault in holding all three Grand Tour titles – Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana – at the same time.