Chris Froome dug deep, suffered perhaps like few times before in his career, and fought all the way to the finish line to conquer the Monte Zoncolan and begin a fight back after losing chunks of time in the Giro d'Italia since his crash in Jerusalem.
Team Sky had given Froome the option of going home due to his injuries and pain from the subsequent muscle imbalances but he always refused to throw in the towel despite losing time, hoping that he could and would recover and somehow fight back.
"It never crossed my mind to retire from the race, that's bike racing, things happen that are not always in your control, especially in the Giro which is very unpredictable," Froome said, showing his pride.
"The crash took a fair bit out of me but it was always the plan to keep fighting. We've seen in the past how quickly the maglia rosa can change shoulders in the Giro, and that's always been in the back of my mind. My team has really supported me, my family and friends, too; the motivation has always been there, so to get the victory today is really special."
Froome finished just six seconds ahead of Simon Yates at the top of the Zoncolan after the two Britons contested a climber's pursuit match in the open-air mountain stadium. Froome managed to hold off Yates to win and also picked up a 10-second time bonus and distanced other overall contenders by much more. He moved up to fifth overall, 3:10 down on Yates but only 1:46 behind Tom Dumoulin and even less behind Domenico Pozzovivo and Miguel Angel Lopez.
With another hard mountain stage to Sappada on Sunday and then Tuesday's 34.2km flat time trial to Rovereto on Tuesday, Froome can perhaps 'see' a spot on the podium in Rome. However, at least for now, he played down his chances of overall victory.
"I'm going to keep racing as hard all the way to Rome," Froome said without setting any specific objective but also without limiting his ambitions.
"I have to be realistic, I'm three minutes down on GC, it's going to be a tough fight to come back in terms of fighting for the victory. If I am completely honest, about a week ago, I had pain down my right side, it was very intense. That was one of the hardest moments for me. Since then, I've felt like the body is starting to recover, and the goal was to build toward the last part of the race. Today is proof of that."
"I am really, really happy with the victory. It's a big boost of morale after what's been a tough start for the race for me and the team. But at the same time, we have to be realistic, there are some really strong riders here; Simon's done an amazing ride up to now. Even in the last kilometre today I thought he was going to catch me. He's got more of a kick than me, I thought he was going to come flying around me. It was such a nice feeling to reach those last few hundred meters and not have him on the wheel. This is a special day for us and a memorable victory for me on top of the Zoncolan, one of the most iconic climbs in Italy."
Froome joked that he will not be afraid to ride Tuesday's time trial course but that he will 'ride a little slower' on the corners to avoid a second crash. He knows a good performance against the clock could further revive his overall ambitions and set up a great race in the final mountain stages. He is not ruling it out.
"It will be one of the key moments of this year's race," he warned. It's over 30km and flat. If I've learned anything, it's that you cannot expect anything to turn out the way you planned. I can only focus on what I can do."
Can he win the time trial?
"Who knows. Anything can happen out there. Simon's been incredibly strong, Tom, I expect both of them to give strong performances Tuesday. I'll do best I can do and take it from there."
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