Chaves quietly building his form at Giro d'Italia
No plan for Mitchelton-Scott to shift Colombian into GC role
Ten days into the Giro d'Italia, and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) is slowly but surely making his way back to top condition, the Colombian says.
But it is a long process, and even if so far Chaves feels he is progressing steadily, neither he nor his team have any intention of accelerating the process in the coming days.
The Giro is the race where Chaves fell ill last year, and although he completed the race, albeit finishing the final stage in last place, he didn't get back into competition until the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in February.
Second in 2016, the Colombian's Giro d'Italia bid last May alongside teammate Simon Yates worked out phenomenally well until Chaves was poleaxed by a combination of viral infections, including glandular fever, a sinus infection and allergies. He finished, but in 72nd place overall, and a shadow of his earlier Giro self. He then spent several months off the bike, fighting and identifying the illnesses and viruses before being cleared to resume training.
Chaves is in a very different kind of race this May, flying below much of the media's radar – not that he's complaining. Now 28th overall at 6:20, Chaves had a good first week and rode a solid time trial in San Marino despite the rain, saying, "I was very cautious in the first part, losing quite a bit of time in the first three or four kilometres because there was a lot of paint on the roads, and with the rain it was very slippery. But then things picked up and I did better in the second half.
"In any case, I've got the same role in the team, and even after a day like Sunday [where Yates lost far more time than expected in the time trial - ed.], nothing will change."
Looking towards what Yates can do, Chaves insisted that his time trial wasn't that bad if you compare it to what happened to their rivals.
"OK, Vincenzo Nibali [Bahrain-Merida] only lost a minute, but the rest [of the main contenders] lost similar amounts of time: Mikel Landa [Movistar], Miguel Angel Lopez [Astana]...
"There's a lot of climbing still to come: 26 climbs in eight days. And that's going to make it interesting, unpredictable."
On a personal level, Chaves said that he is pleased with how the Giro d'Italia is going.
"Things are pretty calm for me. My legs are getting better every day and I hope to continue with that progression all the way through to Verona. Little by little."
Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White played down any idea that Chaves could move into a GC role again at this year's Giro, preferring to look at the longer-term picture.
"I honestly don't think he's got the condition. He came here purely to support Simon. His TT was OK, but nothing's changed," White told Cyclingnews.
And after such a difficult second half of the season, it's the bigger picture that counts. Compared with a year ago, Chaves points out, he is in a far better place.
"This time last year I couldn't even finish a single stage," he said. "So I have to see how each day goes. These next two stages [Tuesday and Wednesday] will be very stressful, but we have to up there. But that's cycling and that’s why I like the Giro. It's always very unpredictable."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.