Chris Froome (Team Sky) turned the Giro d'Italia upside, winning stage 19 alone in Bardonecchia after an 80km solo attack, taking the leader's maglia and scattering his rivals to the wind across Susa valley.
Froome's performance seemed something from a bygone era, with Italian television showing images of Fausto Coppi before he had even reached the finish. Others compared it to Floyd Landis' solo attack in the 2006 Tour de France, which was cancelled after he tested positive for testosterone.
Froome is usually a man of logic, watts and control. But on the road to Bardonecchia he threw caution to wind in the hope of turning the Giro d'Italia upside down. It was perhaps a gamble, a punt at winning the race but it worked out.
"In difficult moments you have to look for crazy solutions," Froome said.
"I think that was one of the most amazing things I've done on the bike," he added, explaining the logic behind his 'impresa' as Italian call such an attack in Grand Tours.
"It was a decision that we took last night to ride in this way. If I was going to wait until the final climb I wouldn't take three minutes on pink jersey, so we decided to make the race on Colle delle Finestre."
"It was a big risk to attack that far from the finish but it was also a calculated risk. We'd looked at all the scenarios. If there is not a big group, not a lot of domestique, then it's up to the GC riders who have to do the same effort as me.
"It was well calculated and the team was fantastic. We had a very aggressive start to the stage; there were a lot of big attacks. The team made strong pace at bottom of the Finestre to set up the situation for me to go.
"There's a lot of planning that goes into a day like this, a lot of detail: the nutritional requirements and good fuelling strategy, the strategy for the team and who is going to do what jobs. Today we did exactly what we spoke about beforehand."
This is bike racing, this is what it is all about
Froome suffered out on the road as he fought to hold off Tom Dumoulin, Thibaut Pinot, Sebastian Reichenbach, Richard Carapaz and Miguel Angel Lopez. He had gained just 49 seconds on the second half of the Colle delle Finestre but took huge risks on the narrow descent to gain a further minute. He then time trialed along the valley to Sestriere and towards Bardonecchia, before giving it everything in a low gear to gain every second possible on the steep Jafferau climb.
He finished exactly three minutes ahead of late attacker Carapaz, with Pinot at 3:07, Lopez at 3:12 and Dumoulin at 3:23. Domenico Pozzovivo was in the group of chasers at 8:23, while Simon Yates – who Team Sky and Froome cracked early on the Colle delle Finestre, finished an incredible 38:51 down.
"It's great to ride like this. This is bike racing, this is what it is all about, especially in the Giro d'Italia," Froome suggested, seemingly recovering quickly from his effort and highlighting the difference between the Italian Grand Tour and the Tour de France.
"The Giro is more unpredictable, the race can turn on its head for no apparent reason, it's more like a classics version of a Grand Tour. The Tour is the highest level, all the strongest riders and teams are there but it's more controlled, there is an expected way of racing in the Tour de France, whereas in the Giro, anything can happen."
This isn't over for a long way
Froome admitted he sometimes questioned what he was doing in the Giro after his crash before the opening Jerusalem time trial, his injuries and his time losses – and again today out on the road alone. But he now he has the maglia rosa and leads Tom Dumoulin by 40 seconds, with Pinot a distant 4:17. Only a final mountain stage to Cervinia separates him from his goal of completing his Froome-slam of consecutive Grand Tour victories.
The Team Sky staff and riders quietly congratulated each other at the team parking below the final climb, loading a team car with bottles of spumante but Froome warned that any celebrations will only be held after Saturday's stage finish or even the parade stage in Rome.
"This race isn't over, this isn't over for a long way, we're not celebrating anything just yet," he said.
"We've seen how quickly it can change shoulders. There's still a lot to race for at this moment.
"Of course it is such an amazing feeling, especially after such difficult start. I've been feeling better and better on the bike, I've been feeling more like myself again and so we've been waiting for this last block. Tomorrow is a hard day. I have 40 seconds on Tom. I did try to ride within myself, but the race isn't over yet."
It's not about the salbutamol
Froome won the stage, took the race lead but also showed his steel and determination to race on while his salbutamol case rumbles on in the background. His and the UCI legal experts continue to argue if Froome violated the anti-doping rules when he had double the allowed amount of salbutamol in a urine sample from last September's Vuelta a Espana.
As Froome climbed the dirt roads of the Colle delle Finestre, two spectators briefly ran alongside him, one dressed as a doctor, the other carrying a huge asthma inhaler.
"I didn't see them, I was watching the road," Froome said, claiming the support he has received at the Giro d'Italia was overwhelmingly warm and supportive.
"Chapeaux to the tifosi. I did not expect the support I've had in Italy, I want to say grazie mille," he said.
"Today was just raw bike racing, that's the Giro d'Italia. What I can I say? If I'm at the front or back there will always be one comment one way or another. It doesn't change anything at all."
More than ever, Froome believes he will be cleared if and when his salbutamol case is finally judged by the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal.
"As I said from the beginning, there's a process in place to demonstrate that I have not done anything wrong. It's just a matter of time before that is clear to everyone."
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