The morning after the day before and Esteban Chaves' abrupt exit from the general classification contest at the Giro d'Italia remains a mystery. The Colombian set out from Penne on Tuesday morning lying second overall, just 32 seconds behind his Mitchelton-Scott teammate Simon Yates. By day's end, he had lost 25 minutes. The bottom line is abundantly clear, but how did the story get to that point?
"We haven't got an answer, simple as that," directeur sportif Matt White said at the start of stage 11 in Santa Maria degli Angeli on Wednesday.
Despite his setback, Chaves continues in the Giro, albeit now in the service of Yates rather than in pursuit of an improvement on his second-place finish of 2016.
On Tuesday, Chaves was in difficulty from the day's opening climb, the Fonte della Creta. Although a battalion of Mitchelton-Scott teammates helped to keep him within touching distance of the pink jersey group for much of the opening 100 kilometres, the forcing of Sunweb, Team Sky et al finally told, and he was irretrievably distanced. The gap extended from three minutes, to 10, to 15 and eventually to 25.
"I don’t actually know what happened besides the fact he had a bad moment in a crucial part of the race. He passed that moment but when the other teams found out he was struggling on that climb they pushed the pace and we weren't able to get him back to the group," White said.
Chaves had worn a weathered smile as he boarded the team bus at the finish in Gualdo Tadino on Tuesday afternoon, telling a television crew, "I still have to understand my problems." When general manager Shayne Bannan emerged from the bus shortly afterwards, he said it was too soon, and the disappointment was too raw, to hold a detailed debrief with his rider.
At the Mitchelton-Scott hotel in Ponte San Giovanni on Tuesday evening, Chaves did sit down and discuss his dramatic collapse with team management. The details of the conversation remain private, but it seems there was no obvious reason – illness or injury – for his travails on the Fonte della Creta.
"What did he say? Well, what he says is between me and him," White said. "I don’t know what caused it, so I'm not going to speculate on anything else. Today is another day, we can't go backwards in time. We're looking forward to focusing on today's effort. Yesterday it happened, no one's got a concrete answer of what it was, so it is what it is."
The absence of a straightforward explanation, of course, leaves a vacuum that is rapidly filled with conjecture. Some quarters of the Italian press reported that Chaves had been struggling with pollen allergies, but White politely declined to speculate on the reasons why the Colombian could not follow the pace. There have been no excuses offered nor sympathy sought from the Mitchelton-Scott camp.
"My opinion doesn't matter because I'm not a doctor. We can't change the past. Whether he's got some issues with the allergies, whether he reacted badly after the rest day – whatever it is, it's history," said White, who confirmed that Chaves would continue in the Giro as normal on Wednesday.
"He’s not sick. I can confirm he's not sick, he didn't crash, and he's not injured. It was a bad moment in the race. He's human, isn't he? We got caught out in a bad moment. It happens.
"Some things you don't have answers for. We can't pinpoint it on one specific thing so it's no use speculating. We're in the middle of the Giro. We can't change things. We've got to try to adapt and recover."
White had availed of Monday's rest day to reconnoitre the first 100 kilometres of stage 10, the longest of the entire Giro. The Mitchelton-Scott team were well briefed on the potential pitfalls in the tough opening section of the race, and there were, it seems, no concerns about Chaves' condition before the start. He had, after all, won atop Mount Etna on Thursday, placed third on Gran Sasso d'Italia on Sunday, and reported no issues during the rest day in the Adriatic resort town of Montesilvano.
"We knew how hard the start was, for sure," White said. "The thing that's obviously strange is that 48 hours before, he was third on a key mountain stage and all that was between that and yesterday was a rest day. He hasn't got a history of having bad days after the rest day. We have not got an answer, as simple as that."
Chaves emerged from the Mitchelton-Scott team bus shortly afterwards, still wearing the blue jersey of mountains classification leader in lieu of his teammate Yates, who remains ensconced in the maglia rosa. In the overall standings, Chaves is now in 39th place, some 25:26 behind.
Any debate over the hierarchy between Chaves and Yates at Mitchelton-Scott has been resolved. Yates carries the team's hope alone, with a lead of 41 seconds over Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and 46 seconds on Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
"It’s simple: we came here with two leaders, now we've got one," White said. "But there was never any problem between them. Esteban will be 100 per cent committed to Simon. He was anyway, now we just have to use it in a different way."
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