Esteban Chaves' career has always been defined by its glittering highs and despairing lows. The plucky Colombian climber rarely does boring but on stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia, he provided a telling reminder of his class and put to bed a year plagued by illness and sudden a loss of form that threatened to end his career at the very top.
He was undoubtedly the strongest climber in the stage-winning break but the same - on paper at least – was probably true two days earlier when Chaves had been denied by AG2R La Mondiale. So when he and his breakaway companions hit the foot of the final climb on Friday all eyes shifted to Chaves and whether he could go one from better after his second-placed finish two days prior.
Countless attacks later Chaves had his hands in the air, with his parents on standby at the finish to give their son the warmest of embraces imaginable. In a Grand Tour that has lacked blockbuster moments, this was a reminder that sometimes the simplest of sights – in this case, the joy of a family in seeing their child succeed - can be just as heartfelt and real as any spectacular sporting feet.
On a sporting level, this was also a triumph that rescued the Giro d'Italia for Mitchelton-Scott after Simon Yates' capitulation in the stage 9 time trial but for Chaves, the win came a year since his last victory – a stage on Etna in the 2018 Giro. Since then Chaves has had to bounce back from a virus that threatened to end his career and injury to boot. For a rider who only turned WorldTour after a horrific accident even being at the Giro this year was a victory in itself.
On stage 19 he was not at his sumptuous best. He was not quite the rider who soared to wins at Lombardia and who came agonizingly close to the Giro crown in 2016. But what he lacked in power he made up for in pure determination. The terrain was perhaps too shallow for him to exploit his rivals with one seismic sized attack but he probed and prodded, drew out and eventually defeated all that came with him.
"Today was an incredible day, very beautiful. It's a liberation from the past two or three years of setbacks and difficulties, always with ups and downs. But this is thanks to everyone who is always around me, my family, my team, my friends, my foundation," he said with that infectious smile.
"This shows that I can be at the maximum level and it can be for many more years to come. I believe that life can be summed in today's final climb; no matter how hard things might get, you have to keep attacking, keep trying, keep pushing, because of you never know when everything can turn around and you will be first across the finish line."
In December of last year Chaves declared that his dream was just to ride a three-week race again after his recovery from mononucleosis. There was no hint during his time off, or when he came back to racing, that he was feeling the pressure of expectancy. Mitchelton-Scott has been patient with their rider and that was clear when Chaves celebrated his win with his family and his team.
"I never felt pressured, we've been here, working, but it was a very special day because it shows that dreams can come true. And today I am realizing a dream today once again. To have my family waiting at the finish line it's something special, it's part of the Giro, and I want to say hello to my brother, who celebrated his birthday yesterday."
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