Colombian Esteban Chaves has moved into the lead of the 99th Giro d?Italia after finishing third on an epic stage 19 today in Italy.
As Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Pro Team) took the stage victory ahead, Chaves finished over four minutes ahead of leader Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) who crashed into a wall of snow on the descent of the ?Cima Coppi?.
The 26-year-old claimed the pink jersey for ORICA-GreenEDGE and holds a 44second advantage to Nibali with just two more race days to come.
A great team performance saw Ruben Plaza escape in the breakaway on the ?Cima Coppi? climb before joining up with Chaves later in the stage and supporting the queen stage winner onto the start of the final climb.
?It?s a dream,? said Chaves. ?Absolutely incredible. The team were fantastic yet again today and I have to thank them and everyone at ORICA-GreenEDGE because this is for all of us.?
?Today was truly a difficult stage but we executed our race plan to perfection. Ruben (Plaza) was ahead in the break and he worked very hard for me in the final after Damien (Howson) had done a great job on the Colle dell Agnello.?
Chaves both instigated and fended off attacks in an impressive performance throughout the stage before battling and riding intelligently with Nibali on the climb to the finish in Risoul.
?I tried to follow Vincenzo (Nibali) when he attacked late in the stage,? explained Chaves. ?I managed to keep my rhythm and stay close enough at the finish. I?m very sorry for the crash of Steven (Kruijswijk), unfortunately it?s a part of bike racing and he was unlucky today.?
Sport director Matt White was very content at the end of the stage but well aware there is another big day in the mountains to come tomorrow.
?We wanted to get someone in the breakaway today that?s for sure,? said White. ?After yesterday’s stage we knew the racing was going to be very aggressive today with lots of teams looking to get into the break which didn?t end up forming until 75kilometres in.?
?It made the difference for us having Plaza up the road because he was so important for Esteban in the final third of the stage when the chasers looked to be getting closer.?
?Nibali was very strong on the final climb,? continued White. ?But Esteban rode really well and measured his rhythm and his tempo all the way to the finish.?
?Tomorrow is going to be a very difficult stage and we are going to have to be on our guard all the time, but we have one more hard day to go and we are really happy to be in this position.?
How it happened:
Today?s stage 19 began at a frantically fast pace with riders being dropped from the peloton almost as soon as the flag dropped.
Despite countless attempts the peloton was desperately keeping things together as the start of the first climb, the Colle dell?Agnello, approached.
Plaza was one of 28 riders who finally formed the breakaway that escaped on the climb and developed an advantage of four minutes on the Chaves group.
Six riders including Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) attacked from the breakaway group ahead of the first mountains points of the day with Ulissi claiming the points.
The six riders had around 30seconds on the twenty chasers before Michele Scarponi (Astana) began to drive the pace and broke clear with 65kilometres left to race.
The Chaves and Kruijswijk group were six minutes behind as Scarponi neared the cloud covered summit of the Colle dell?Agnello and Chaves decided to make his move.
Chaves attacked after a huge pull by Howson with initially only Kruijswijk able to follow. Nibali caught back on with the Astana rider, Kruijswijk and Chaves now putting over 30seconds into the Valverde group.
Race leader Kruijswijk crashed dramatically into the snow banked on the roadside a few hundred metres into the descent with the Dutchman losing contact with Chaves and Nibali who had then joined up with Plaza.
Into the last 40kilometres and the tactics of ORICA-GreenEDGE were proving to be spot on as Plaza powered forward with Chaves on his wheel and Nibali just behind.
Ahead, Scarponi was virtually track standing in the middle of the road with 30kilometres to go as he waited for Nibali ahead of the final climb. The Chaves group had swelled to seven riders as they picked up Scarponi and stragglers from the earlier breakaway.
Plaza led the group onto the final climb to Risoul with 12kilometres to go and Kruijswijk was now over two minutes behind and losing time.
Nibali attacked multiple times only to be covered by Chaves, until he eventually gained 20metres on Chaves who maintained his rhythm as the gradient sharpened.
Nibali pushed out for the stage win with Chaves crossing the line in third place, 53seconds later, to take the race lead and the pink jersey into tomorrow?s penultimate stage.
Stage 20 is another difficult Alpine mountain stage covering 134kilometres and three peaks from Gillestre to Sant?Anna di Vinadio. The course includes three epic climbs, the Col de Vars, the Col de la Bonette and the Colle della Lombarda all coming before a tough summit finish.
Giro d?Italia stage 19 results:
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 04:19:54
2. Mikel Nieve (Team-Sky) 00:00:51
3. Esteban Chaves (ORICA-GreenEDGE) 00:00:53
General classification after stage 19:
1. Esteban Chaves (ORICA-GreenEDGE) 78:14:20
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 00:00:44
3. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) 00:01:05