After 664 days without a win, Esteban Chaves (Team BikeExchange) bounced back in style in the 2021 Volta a Catulunya on Thursday as the Colombian secured an impressive solo victory in the hardest mountain stage of this year’s race.
Second at Vallter 2000 on Wednesday already boded well for the 31-year-old, who has struggled against the Epstein-Barr virus in the past and who was on the comeback trail again this year.
He was last seen raising his arms in victory in the 2019 Giro d’Italia with a solo break to the summit finish of San Martino di Castrozza. Two years later, Chaves once again won alone, but this time, rather than going from a day-long break, he jumped away from the main GC group seven kilometres from the line.
With a time gap that only rose to 25 seconds at most, and which was only 13 seconds with a kilometre of steadily-rising climb left to race, it was touch and go all the way. But Chaves finally crossed the line for victory with a seven-second margin, and in the process gained a crucial boost to his morale.
“It was a bit suicide, but I had nothing to lose and a lot to win,” Chaves said afterwards. “There was a very strong headwind, and in that kind of situation, if you’re sitting on the wheels, you'll save a lot of watts.
“But I felt good, the race was going really fast at that point, and I tried it. It couldn’t have worked out better.”
Now sixth overall, Chaves admitted freely that he had not had an easy 2020 season, saying, “it’s no secret that for some months things were really tough for me. So a performance like this gives you a lot of pleasure and happiness after all those difficult moments, it’s payback time for all the hard work and a way of saying 'thank you' to all the people in the team who kept on believing in me.”
Looking ahead, Chaves pointed out that the Volta still has three very tough stages left to go and on stage six, to Mataró, they will be working to see what Team BikeExchange sprinter Dion Smith, already the fastest in the peloton in the dash for the line at Calella on stage 1 behind a four-man break, can do.
“For Simon [Yates], Lucas [Hamilton] and me it’ll be important to maintain our GC placings as best we can and maybe try to improve them. I’ve got the King of the Mountains jersey as well, and it’d be nice to keep that one too to wear in Barcelona on Sunday.”
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