Colombian Esteban Chaves snatched victory on an epic 14th stage of the Giro d’Italia Saturday that saw Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk take the pink jersey and favourite Vincenzo Nibali boost his overall victory hopes.
Costa Rican Andrey Amador had started the 210km stage from Alpago to Corvara — considered the race’s ‘Queen Stage’ — as the new race leader after dispossessing Luxembourg’s Bob Jungels after a first day in the mountains on Friday.
But in what was a hugely disappointing day for Movistar, Amador and his team leader Alejandro Valverde finished nearly four minutes behind Chaves after the Orica team rider dominated a four-man sprint to the line after they launched a dramatic chase of Colombian Darwin Atapuma (BMC) in the closing kilometers of the six-climb thriller.
Atapuma had reason to be in tears at the finish. Having once been attacked by bandits during a training ride in the mountains of Colombia, it was compatriot Chaves who rumbled his dream of a maiden stage win in the spectacular Dolomites.
Caught with just 1.8 km to race, Atapuma was agonisingly left in fourth after a last burst of pace by Chaves was enough to leave Kruijswijk in second and Austrian Georg Preidler completing the podium. “I can’t describe what I’m feeling. It’s a dream come true,” said Chaves.
“Winning the queen stage in the Giro is really special.”
Italian favorite Nibali, the 2013 champion, failed to get the stage win but the Astana team leader crossed the finish just 37 seconds in arrears to build a significant advantage on Valverde, one of his main rivals for overall victory in Turin on May 29.
Lotto team leader Kruijswijk holds a 41sec lead on Nibali and a 1:32 lead on Chaves heading into Sunday’s 15th stage time trial, a 10.8km race against the clock which is mostly uphill. “I knew this kind of stage would suit me pretty good, after the first mountain stage we had yesterday,” said Kruijswijk. “Today, I could attack and really had some good power. I was lucky that I had Esteban with me and we could work together. I’m happy to get the pink
Valverde is in fourth, but at 3:06 behind the Spanish veteran and 2009 Tour of Spain winner faces a huge battle to get back into contention on his race debut. For Nibali, meanwhile, the glass was half empty. “I took some time from Valverde, from whom I perhaps expected more today,” Nibali said. “But I’m not completely satisfied with my day.”
THE QUEEEN HAS NO PITY
On the race’s most difficult stage, Amador was expected to be tested and saw his dream crumble on the penultimate of the day’s six climbs, the 9.8 km long Passo Giau. He began to struggle when Nibali’s Astana team pushed the pace, causing panic, counter-attacks and, ultimately, Valverde and Amador being left behind as Kruijswijk and Chaves hung on to the Italian’s wheel.
When they launched their own attack three kilometers further on, Nibali had nothing in reserve as Kruijswijk and Chaves successfully chased down Atapuma and his former breakaway partner Kanstantsin Siutsou. “Their (Chaves and Kruijswijk) attack was pretty good,” added Nibali. “I couldn’t match the change of rhythm really. I had to let them go and limit the
damage.” Nibali will be hoping to recover in time for Sunday’s formidable time trial, which could see a new race leader and give an indication who really has the legs for overall victory.
Now virtually rid of Valverde, Kruijswijk and Chaves have become Nibali’s
big rivals. The Dutchman warned: “Esteban was really strong today. I think he showed,
together with me, that he was one of the strongest in the race. First, let’s do tomorrow and then we will see after the rest day.”
1. Esteban Chaves (COL) Orica 6hr 06min 16sec, 2. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) same time, 3. Georg Preidler (AUT/GIA) s.t., 4. Darwin Atapuma (COL/BMC) at 06sec, 5. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) 37, 6. Kanstantsin Siutsou (BLR/DDT) 37, 7. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 2min 29sec, 8. Rafal Majka (POL/TIN) s.t., 9. Rigoberto Uran (COL/CAN) 2:50, 10. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/ALM) 3:00
1. Steven Kruijswijk (NED) Lotto 60hr 12min 43sec, 2. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) at 41sec, 3. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI) 1:32, 4. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 3:06, 5. Andrey Amador (CRC/MOV) 3:15, 6. Rafal Majka (POL/TIN) 3:29, 7. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 3:53, 8. Rigoberto Uran (COL/CAN) 5:01, 9. Kanstantsin Siutsou (BLR/DDT) 5:38, 10. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) 5:38