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Esteban Chaves: The Giro d'Italia is a race in my heart

Crowd favourite Esteban Chaves has signed on for another two seasons at Mitchelton-Scott
Crowd favourite Esteban Chaves has signed on for another two seasons at Mitchelton-Scott (Image credit: Getty Images)

Esteban Chaves decided to change things up to start the 2020 season and make his first-ever start at his home tour, taking the line at Tour Colombia 2.1 this week for the Colombian national team.

It was a special request to his Mitchelton-Scott trade team by the rider who was injured in a horrible crash in 2017 at the Giro dell'Emilia and has been slowly clawing his way back to the top end of the sport, winning a mountain stage at the Giro d'Italia last year and hoping for more Grand Tour success in 2020.

"I've wanted to race in Colombia since I first became a professional, and I have the opportunity with this race," Chaves told Cyclingnews Wednesday before the start of stage 2 in Paipa.

"I asked the team to come, but they have the Australian summer and it is important because the team sponsor is Australian. I asked if I could race with the Colombian selection, and they agreed," he said.

Chaves is one of six riders on the Colombian team, which also includes Chaves' younger brother Brayan, who raced for the Mitchelton-BikeExchange Continental team and is now on a Colombian squad.

"It's pretty special to be part of the selection with my brother. He started with my foundation team four or five years ago, and now he is racing with one of the more important teams, so to race with him here is super special, pretty cool, pretty nice," Chaves said.

"I can show him some of the correct things, like how to treat the people, your teammates, the public; you need to be calm and race well. It's special for my brother and myself."

Aside from getting to race with his brother in front of family and friends, changing things up is part of Mitchelton-Scott's strategy to get the most out of their Colombian climber. Previously with Mitchelton-Scott, Chaves started his season in Europe in often-times cold and wet weather, which didn't necessarily sit well with his South American DNA.

"I've done that every year I've been professional, and always when you do the same thing you have the same result, so we're trying to change it this time by starting the season here," he said.

"Yesterday I was talking about this race, and I will do many things I have never done with this selection. When you are in a trade team, it's very different from the national team," he said. "So I will learn about it and for sure the race will give me preparation to go to Europe and avoid the cold. That's super important for us because we have the hot blood and it's good to be warm and also get extended time at altitude."

Chaves won't be able to avoid the European cold forever, as he'll head to Europe after the Colombian race. He told Cyclingnews his calendar hasn't been sorted yet, but he'll start at either Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico or Volta a Catalunya.

He also doesn't know which Grand Tour he'll race, but he knows for sure which three-week race is his favourite.

"Always I love the Giro d'Italia," he said, flashing his big, trademark smile. "It is a race in my heart, but the Tour this year is especially good for climbers, and also one of my objectives is Tokyo [2020 Olympic Games]. I want to be part of the selection. I was part of the selection four years ago, and I think it's pretty special, and I want to do that."

The Giro d'Italia is special for Chaves because his stage win there was an important milestone in his comeback from injury and illness that almost ended his career. On stage 19 of the 2019 Giro, he was not quite the rider who soared to wins at Il Lombardia and who came agonizingly close to the Giro crown in 2016. But what he lacked in power he made up for in determination. The terrain was perhaps too shallow for him to exploit his rivals with one big attack, but he probed and prodded, drew out and eventually defeated all that came with him.

"More than showing everybody, I showed myself, and this is the more important thing," he said of his Giro stage win. "Sometimes you are worried for the outside, but you need to be more worried about the inside. I showed myself that I can do it.

"I passed two-and-a-half years really hard without achieving my goals or arriving at my objectives, and so last year I passed the test. It was really important to show to myself I can do it. I just need to work really hard with a plan but also enjoy."

Chaves said he is reconnecting with his love of cycling and the joy it brings him, and for him, that is as important as training smart and with the latest science available. The Colombian rides with passion and panache and his love of the bike had diminished after 10 years as a pro and a swath of difficulties. Joy is a big part of his training plan now.

"With the plans you forget the joy, because you have all of this information," he said. "You know, watts, altitude, training peaks, all of that, and you forget the most important thing is that you enjoy riding your bike."