Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) showed his class and determination to smile at life even in defeat after stage 20, admitting that Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was the strongest rider in the Giro d'Italia and so deserved to win the maglia rosa.
"We're still happy, we gave our very best but Nibali, Scarponi and Astana showed they're the best. I didn't have the legs, that's life. There's nothing else to say," Chaves said, still with a smile on his face.
Chaves lost contact with Nibali mid-way up the Colle della Lombarda. He fought to limit his losses but reached the finish at Sant 'Anna di Vinadio 1:36 down an inspired Nibali. He is now second overall at 52 seconds.
The Colombian climber has been struggling with bronchitis in the last few days, with a blocked nose revealing he was not at his best. He is apparently also taking antibiotics but he refused to say that his illness cost him the maglia rosa.
"It's not an excuse. I'm not the kind of guy to say I was ill or I had cramp. I just didn't have the legs and that's it," he said. "When you're heartbeat is at 200, you don't think about anything, about illness, you just try your best."
Chaves' parents and his partner were at the finish and hugged him in the podium area. Nibali also hugged them, in a reciprocal show of affection and respect. His parents were rightly proud of him. Chaves was happy to see them, even in defeat.
"This is the first time that my parents have come to Europe, it was my first time in the maglia rosa. I lost the jersey today that's not important. It's more important that they were here. I've only lost a bike race."
Chaves sees his second place overall as a success. He finished fifth in the Vuelta a Espana last year but has stepped up a level this year as he targeted the Giro d'Italia. He and the Orica-GreenEdge team planned the first part of the season with one goal. For Chaves, second place is a success. He now knows he can challenge for victory in a Grand Tour.
"I learnt that dreams can come true," he said. "If you keep working and never give up, then your dreams can come true. That's what I'm going to continue doing."
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