BMC's Darwin Atapuma appeared on the cusp of a debut grand tour stage victory on stage 14 of the Giro d'Italia but in the end it was fellow Colombian Esteban Chaves raising his arm in triumph. Atapuma was caught in the finale of the Giro's queen stage by Chaves, new maglia rosa Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and breakaway companion Georg Preidler, and with his dream of a victory sailing past with the trio, he crossed the line in the inconsequential position of fourth place wondering what could have been.
Having crossed the line, Atapuma slowly came to a stop, unclipping from his pedals and slumping his head over his handlebars.
"To be honest I think I need a while to really absorb what happened today and reflect on the stage," Atapuma said via a team press release having returned to the team bus without answering questions from the press. "To come so close, on a stage like today, is devastating. I felt really good throughout the stage, had good legs and good sensations, and it was going perfectly. I gave it absolute everything when I attacked on the final climb, I thought if I could just hold on to my gap in the descent, I could make it in those final kilometers."
The 28-year-old improved his overall position from 24th to 14th but it was the stage win Atapuma was dreaming of. With several big mountain stages to come, there will be other opportunities for Atapuma who explained he will try again but knows stage 14 is one that got away.
"I'm exhausted both mentally and physically. It would have been one of the best wins of my career. I just kept hoping and hoping that I would stay clear. But on a stage like today, it's rare that everything goes to plan. I hope I'll have more opportunities in the next week of racing," he said.
Day in pink one to forget for Andrey Amador
Andrey Amador's stint in the pink jersey ended after just one day with the Costa Rican losing contact from the GC group when Astana came to the front and lifted the pace on the fearsome Passo Giau. A daredevil ascent by the Movistar rider saw him rejoin the GC group at the head of the race but once on the Valparola, Amador couldn't handle the pace.
Amador crossed the line 3:52 minutes down on stage winner Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) while Movistar's man GC man, Alejandro Valverde also had a bad day and finished three minutes down on the Colombian. Amador is now fifth overall, 3:15 minutes down on the new maglia rosa Steven Kruijswijk.
"First of all, I'd like to thank all the fans who have been supporting us during this week, both in good and bad moments, yesterday and today. It was a tough day for us," Amador said. "The team was absolutely excellent. I struggled to keep the pace of the group into the Giau, but could bridge back into the downhill. Obviously, I had nothing left to keep chasing in Valparola, and I could just keep a steady pace to try and not too lose too much time."
Amador added that with plenty of hard racing to come in the third week, he and Valverde will focus on the opportunities ahead rather than dwell on a bad day.
"It was difficult for me, also for Alejandro, but we remain in overall contention - that's the only thing we must keep thinking of at this moment. It wasn't a course that suited me well, either," Amador explained. "I know Bala will turn things around. We must forget about today, or just learn about what we did wrong so as not repeat it - tomorrow is another day to keep fighting."
Bike change proves costly forKatusha's Ilnur Zakarin
Ilnur Zakarin was front and centre in the GC group as the fight for pink was heating up in stage 14. The Katusha rider started the day in seventh place and finished in the same position but conceded 2:29 minutes to Esteban Chaves and Steven Kruijswijk and almost two minutes to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) after a bike change forced him to stop then chase to disrupt his rhythm and pacing on the queen stage.
"It was of the most important stages, and everyone gave all he had in the legs. I felt better than yesterday, so I tried to be in front all the time," Zakarin said. "In the last climb, when Nibali attacked, I was able to answer and later, after another attack, I just did my best. When you gave 100%, you can be satisfied. I think I would have been able to follow Nibali as our group was close.
"In that moment, however, I had to stop for a bike change. It took some time, and later I had to chase Rafal Majka and Rigoberto Uran. I caught them, but at that moment the gap to the leaders was already too big. Anyway, I think the fight will go on. Many important stages are still ahead. I will do it day by day,"
Zakarin will start the decisive stage 15 time trial to Alpe di Siusi at 4:28PM looking to move ahead of Majka, and Movistar duo Andrey Amador and Alejandro Valverde who are all within one minute of the Russian.
Preidler vows to try again after close call
While Georg Preidler was banging his bars in frustration having been caught then beaten to the line by Esteban Chaves and Steven Kruijswijk in the Giro's queen stage, it was his first best result yet in a grand tour for the 25-year-old. The Giant-Alpecin rider had animated the main breakaway of the day and was riding strongly across the catergorised Dolomite climbs and explained that was experiencing mixed emotions upon finishing the stage, unsure just what to feel.
"I don't know if I should be happy or disappointed since I was so close to winning the Queen Stage of the Giro," said Georg after the finish. "At least I am happy that I was the strongest of the breakaway group, but I’m also disappointed about the result because more was possible at the end."
Preidler made his grand tour debut at the 2013 Vuelta a España with seventh place on the Monte Zoncolan stage of the 2014 Giro his first top-ten result in a three week race. The Austrian time trial champion was 27th overall on his Giro debut and as he currently sits 21st on GC, could well post his best overall result as well with one week of racing to come.
Berlato finishes stage 14 in ambulance
Giacomo Berlato succumbed to fatigue in the finale of the Giro's queen stage with the leader of the breakaway classification requiring first aid having collapsed on the side of the road. The official race communique explained the 24-year-old was taken to finish line in an ambulance after he collapsed with 25km left in the stage.
Berlato, who was 101st on his Giro debut last year, was one of seven riders to record a DNF on the stage including 2012 champion Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo).
It wasn't all bad news for Nippo Vini Fantini with Damiano Cunego enjoying another visit to the podium to collect the blue climber's jersey.
Stage 14 video highlights
Stage 14 proved to be one of the most exciting yet in this year's Giro with plenty of action and talking points. If you missed any of the action or simply want to rewatch the best of the 'queen stage', sit back and enjoy the highlights below.
To watch more highlights from the 2016 Giro, click here