As Chris Froome crossed the finish line atop the Jafferau at the end of stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia after an 80-kilometre solo effort, the race speaker provided a breathless running commentary from the podium. "Una fuga d’altri tempi," he cried enthusiastically - "A break from another era."
The speaker was undoubtedly thinking of Fausto Coppi’s exploits during the Giro’s sepia-tinted editions in the immediate post-war period, but Froome’s disquieting show of strength seemed to have just as much in common with more recent lone attacks from a rather more garishly-coloured age.
Friday’s stage, after all, saw Froome climb Sestriere, where Claudio Chiappucci claimed a startling solo victory on the 1992 Tour de France after spending most of the day alone off the front. The dramatic turnaround in his fortunes – Froome began the day 3:22 off the overall lead and finished it in the pink jersey – put one in mind of Floyd Landis’ outsized lone effort on the road to Morzine at the 2006 Tour.
Froome is riding this Giro despite testing positive for salbutamol at last year’s Vuelta a España (a verdict has yet to be reached, meaning he is entitled to compete), and even as he pulled away from Tom Dumoulin, Thibaut Pinot et al on the upper slopes of the Colle delle Finestre, there was no getting away from the fact. As if any reminder were needed, two men on the side of the road wielded a large, mock-up inhaler as Froome rode past.
The speaker, of course, made no mention of Froome’s uncertain status as the tifosi cheered the Sky rider’s arrival, but although he was lauding what he felt to be an exploit for the ages by the man he called 'his majesty Chris Froome', it is still altogether unclear whether the victory will remain in the record books once the salbutamol case has been resolved.
While Froome was being feted atop the podium, the previous race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was only beginning his ascent of the Jafferau, the final part of a day-long ordeal that had begun when he was dropped on the Finestre with 85km to go. The speaker kept spectators updated on his progress and signalled his arrival in the final kilometre: "Ladies and gentleman, please guide the maglia rosa to the line."
"All you can hear in there is guys coughing their lungs out," said one team official on emerging from the tent.
Froome was the first rider to the summit of the Jafferau, but the last to leave, detained by his media obligations as stage winner and overall leader.
While Froome spoke to reporters in the mixed zone, a group of rowdy tifosi dressed as cows began to serenade him in song. Their bidons contained something more potent than water. "Chris Froome, uno di noi," they sang. "Chris Froome, one of us."
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