Esteban Chaves (Orica-Greenedge) insisted that he fully deserved to pull on the pink jersey after Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) crashed on the descent of the Colle dell'Agnello and lost four minutes in the overall classification during stage 19 at the Giro d'Italia.
The Colombian climber finished third on the stage, 53 seconds down on Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) but gained enough time on Kruijswijk to become only the third Colombian to ever wear the maglia rosa. He now leads Nibali by 44 seconds, with Kruijswijk third at 1:05 but injured and fatigued after his crash and chase.
Kruijswijk was with Chaves and Nibali over the top of the Colle dell’Agnello but then crashed at high speed into a snowbank. He needed to change his bike but lost more and more time as Nibali, Chaves and a combination of other riders drove hard all the way to the finish in Risoul.
"We’ll never know what would have happened. We can’t reverse events in life," Chaves said intelligently. "That’s cycling, the race was on. It only takes one error and you can crash. Zakarin crashed too, and if either I or Nibali had made a mistake, it could have happened to us. I hope that this jersey doesn’t seem to be worth less.
"It’s a dream to take the pink jersey. I always say that dreams can come true. There’s a lot of work behind this moment by my team but we always believed we could do it. I also have to thank my family and all the people who were involved and who have helped me in the difficult moments. This jerseys shows that dreams can true.”
Chaves took time to thank his Orica-GreenEdge teammates, who helped him today and throughout this Giro d’Italia. The Australian team again played a smart tactical game, having riders in the break and in the peloton that could help Chaves on the Colle dell’Agnello and later on the long descent to the final climb up to the finish in Risoul.
“I want to say that was a very special day for me, my team and my country. The team worked incredibly. They were all great guys: Bewley, Hepburn, Svein Tuft, Howson. Ruben was in the break and I was with Howson and Txurruka,” Chaves explained with genuine gratitude.
“We attacked a little early, five kilometres from the summit of the Agnello, but had to do it to gain time to make the difference. I struggled to stay with Nibali on the descent; he’s a little crazy but was ‘loco’ or ‘pazzo’ as you say in Italian. But you do it when the maglia rosa is up for grabs. I’m sorry for Kruijswijk that he crashed. I didn’t see it but heard about it on the radio. At the end of the day Nibali was the strongest and I couldn’t stay with him. Congratulations to him and Kruijswijk, who fought so hard.”
Defending a 44 second lead on Nibali
Chaves could smile and enjoy his moment in the pink leader’s jersey, but the Giro d’Italia is not over until Sunday. Before then Chaves and Orica-GreenEdge will have to defend their 44 second advantage on a resurgent Nibali, with Kruijswijk only 1:05 behind despite his crash and long chase.
Saturday’s stage includes the Col de Vars immediately after the start, the 2715m high Col de la Bonette mid-stage and then the Colle della Lombarda (19.8km at 7.5 per cent) before the two-kilometre 9 per cent climb up to the finish in Sant’Anna di Vinadio.
“Tomorrow is the toughest stag for sure. The last stage always is and now there are three riders within minute. That’s incredible,” Chaves said.
“Today we raced to attack, tomorrow we can ride to defend the jersey. So we can stay calmer, with our feet on the ground. It’s also a short stage but a hard stage. We’ll do everything we can to try to take the jersey home. It’ll be ‘bellissimo’ if we can, if not we’ll have done our very best.”