It was the Queen stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia – 210km, 5 mountain passes and a nasty kick at the finish. We had Movistar meltdowns, a Shark with a damp squib, Dutch derring-do and a little kangaroo that could. Orica-GreenEDGE’s Esteban Chaves nipped out from behind Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin) to take the stage win with long-suffering breakaway rider Darwin Atapuma (BMC) fading in the last 100m. Kruijswijk slips the maglia rosa over his unfeasibly wide shoulders.
Rider of the race
Great stages, just like today, have everything – well-timed attacks and unfortunate meltdowns, cold logic and hot emotion, unrestrained elation and unfathomable disappointment. My rider of the race for this stage is one whose pose at the finish epitomises the last on that list – unfathomable disappointment.
Darwin Atapuma had been in the break of the day, which swelled to 30 before the climbs steadily decimated the group, until he took his opportunity and dumped the last remnants named Preidler and Dimension Data’s Kanstantsin Siutsou on the final climb of Valparola. Riding strong and with the GC favourites having their own battles further down the slopes, Atapuma must have thought he was in the cat-bird seat when he crested the summit and took the descent with a fearlessness that is both terrifying and astounding.
Little did he know that Chaves and Kruijswijk were putting the screws to the GC favourites and were speeding towards him with Preidler in tow. The catch of the Colombian occurred with just two – TWO – kilometres to go and as is so often the case, the solo ride took too much out of his legs to challenge the other three in the sprint for the line.
It was always going to be a day for the GC to have a monumental shake down – and shake down it did. Vincenzo Nibali made sure his Astana team did their bit to provoke a Movistar meltdown, with Michele Scarponi shelling out everyone but a handful of riders on the climbs and causing Andrey Amador to slip further and further away from any chance of keeping the pink jersey. While only the most wishful of thinkers could have imagined that Amador would withstand the climbing pressure today, what we didn’t imagine was that his team captain, Alejandro Valverde, would meltdown with him – and not out of team solidarity. His Nibs put in attack after attack until Valverde couldn’t respond.
But all the while, Chaves and Kruijswijk were waiting in the wheels. Kruijswijk followed the final Nibali attack with Chaves bridging soon after, putting in an attack of his own that only the Dutch rider could follow. Cue a lightening fast descent of the final climb by the pair who were working well together and we had a shark who was isolated and riding on his own, vainly trying to bridge the gap.
Steven Kruijswijk has been in the GC top 5 since stage 4, riding a race of quiet confidence. So quiet in fact that it seemed today that Nibali hadn’t noticed him until it was too late, such was his focus on distancing Valverde (and distance he did – Valverde is now 3.06 off the top spot). Perhaps this was Nibali’s tactic – pick off his rivals one stage at a time – but it didn’t seem that he had anticipated Kruijswijk’s performance today. Even worse, he couldn’t neutralise the Dutchman – both Kruijswijk and Chaves looked more comfortable and less hounded perhaps than Nibali. With his performance today, the JumboBee takes the maglia rosa with Nibali 37sec down. Tomorrow’s uphill time trial might just be one of the most important stages in Kruijswijk’s career so far.
The little kangaroo
Esteban Chaves. That is all.
1 Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) 6:06:16
2 Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) same time
3 Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin) s/t
4 Darwin Atapuma (BMC) 0:06
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 0:37
1 Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) 60:12:43
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +0:41
3 Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:32
4 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +3:06
5 Andrey Amador (Movistar) +3:15
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Point’s jersey: Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo)
KOM jersey: Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini)
Best young rider: Bob Jungels (Etixx-Quick Step)
For full review of the stage, go to Cycling News
Header image: Esteban Chaves. © Getty Images/Luk Benies