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After Kruijswijk had crashed on the descent from the Agnello, Nibali dropped Chaves on the final climb to take a dominant stage win and move into second overall; Chaves is the new leader and Kruijswijk drops to third

Photo: ANSA - PERI / DI MEO / ZENNARO

ESTEBAN CHAVES

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GIRO D'ITALIA

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MIKEL NIEVE

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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VINCENZO NIBALI

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27.05.2016 @ 17:48 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) proved that you can never count on the aggressive Italian who proved himself as the true champion he is by riding to a storming solo win in the first of two big stages in the Alps. Having attacked already on the Colle dell’Agnello, he joined forces with Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and after the latter had crashed on the descent,  he dropped his Colombian rival on the final climb before putting 53 seconds into the Orica-GreenEDGE leader. A devastated Kruijswijk lost almost five minutes and so Chaves moves into the race lead with a 44-second advantage over Nibali while Kruijswijk is now third at 1.05.

 

Yesterday Astana were still contemplating withdrawal from the Giro d’Italia for Vincenzo Nibali. The Kazakh team were at a loss to explain why the Italian had performed so poorly and he underwent blood checks to check whether health issues could explain his sudden drop in form.

 

The tests showed nothing and so Nibali decided to continue, still hoping that he could maybe get onto the podium. However, he had probably never believed that he would find himself back in winning contention just 24 hours later after having made one of the most remarkable comebacks in recent grand tour history.

 

Nibali didn’t look like his usual confident self when Esteban Chaves started the battle on the mighty Colle dell’Agnello far from the finish. He was briefly dropped when the Colombian made his first attack but he had luck to get back as a very strong Steven Kruijswijk didn’t give Chaves an inch, prompting the Orica-GreenEDGE captain to slow down. When Chaves went again, he had apparently gained confidence and while the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) were dropped, he managed to stay with Chaves and Kruijswijk.

 

Nibali realized that he was on a good day so he was the one to push out the advantage near the top but it was the descent that dramatically changed the complexion of the stage. Kruijswijk had shown no signs of weakness at all but when he hit the deck on the descent, it all turned sour for the Dutchman.

 

A broken bike cost a lot of time for Kruijswijk who had to dig deep in the valley just to limit his losses. Nibali and Chaves had a free ride behind teammate Ruben Plaza and Michele Scarponi who had been in the early break and so they arrived at the bottom of the climb a lot fresher.

 

That allowed them to gain massive time on Kruijswijk on the ascent where Nibali attacked repeatedly until Chaves finally cracked with 6km to go. The Italian rode strongly to gain 53 seconds on his Colombian rival and almost five minutes on Kruijswijk. The result allowed Chaves to take the lead but Nibali moved back into winning contention and now sits just 44 seconds behind in second, with Kruijswijk in third at 1.05.

 

The drama had started on the Colle dell’Agnello after a big 28-rider group had got clear in the early part of the race. Hubert Dupont, Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r), Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, Michele Scarponi (Astana), Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani), Andre Cardoso, Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Johann van Zyl (Dimension Data), Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep), Stefan Denifl, Marcel Wyss (IAM), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Tim Wellens, Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal), Jose Herrada, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Rory Sutherland (Movistar), Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Ruben Plaza (Orica-GreenEDGE), Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin), Viacheslav Kuznetsov, Egor Silin (Katusha), Ian Boswell, Mikel Nieve, David Lopez, Nicolas Roche (Sky), Jesus Hernandez and Evgeny Petrov (Tinkoff) had escaped just before they hit the climb and from that group Scarponi, Ulissi and Silin had attacked.

 

Scarponi dropped Ulissi and Silin while the group split behind. Nieve was leading the chase and only Roche, Boswell, Preidler, Cardoso, Monfort and Herrada cold follow. As they picked up Silin, Boswell briefly lost contact but together with Denifl, Dupont and Plaza, he regained contact.

 

In the peloton, Bram Tankink took over the pace-setting for LottoNL-Jumbo and lots of riders were getting dropped as he gradually whittled down the peloton. Meanwhile, Scarponi pushed his advantage over Ulissi out to 10 seconds while the chasers were at 20 seconds. At this point, Herrada lost contact.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo were not worried by Scarponi and Tankink, Martijn Keizer, Primoz Roglic and Enrico Battaglin stayed with Kruijswijk while the gap went out to 6.35 as they entered the final 60km.

 

Things got exciting when Orica-GreenEDGE moved to the front with Amets Txurruka, Damien Howson and Chaves. When the Basque swung off, only Kruijswijk, Valverde, Nibali, Zakarin, Andrey Amador (Movistar(, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale) were still there. Howson took over and immediately distanced Amador, Dombrowski and Majka and finally Zakarin also had to surrender.

 

Howson left Chaves, Nibali, Valverde and Kruijswijk alone and when the Colombian went full gas, Nibali fell off. He dropped back to Zakarin and Majka but they made it back when Chaves eased off after Petrov had given them a hand after having been caught.

 

Petrov set the pace but couldn’t prevent Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Bob Jungels (Etixx), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale), Rein Taaramae (Katusha), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) and Amador from regaining contact. Atapuma even made an immediate counterattack while Simon Clarke (Cannondale), Sebastian Henao (Sky) and Dombrowski also made it back.

 

Jungels started to set a hard pace that put Pozzovivo, Henao and Clarke in difficulty and they slowly brought Atapuma back. Meanwhile, Ulissi was caught by Boswell, Nieve, Monfort, Cardoso and Dupont to form a chase group behind Scarponi.

 

Chaves tried again and this time only Kruijswijk could respond. Nibali, Zakarin, Uran, Majka and Valverde made it back but then the Spaniard and the Colombian cracked. The Russian also lost contact and when Nibali took over the pace-setting, Majka cracked too.

 

Scarponi was the first rider to reach the summit while Nieve attacked from the chase group to take second place 1.23 behind the Italian. After the top, he waited for the rest of the group.

 

Kozhatayev dropped back to Nibali and set the pace for a few hundred metres while Taaramae regained contact with Zakarin, Valverde, Atapuma and Uran. The Estonian started to work for his Russian captain.

 

When Kozhatayev swung off, Chaves moved to the front but it was Nibali who launched the next attack. Chaves briefly seemed to be in difficulty but the trio was together when they crested the summit 4.57 behind the lone leader. The Valverde group had lost around a minute and quickly brought Majka back.

 

That’s when disaster struck for Kruijswijk. On the upper slopes of the descent, the Dutchman hit the ground and even though he was apparently unhurt, the Dutchman had broken his bike and it took a long time before he got back on his bike.

 

Nibali didn’t wait and went hard down the descent until the pair picked up Plaza who sacrificed himself for Chaves. Meanwhile, Kruijswijk was chasing on his own and had to stop again to get a new bike.

 

The Astana car decided to ask Scarponi to wait but as the Italian had now latched onto the Plaza train, he decided to stay with Monfort when the Belgian joined him on the descent. Valverde, Majka and Uran had picked up Herrada who was giving it his all for his captain.

 

Disaster struck for Zakarin who had a very bad crash on the descent and was forced to abandon. The Russian went off-road and was lying on the ground for a long time.

 

With 35km to go, Kruijswijk was 1.30 behind Chaves and Nibali and was desperately trying to catch the Valverde group. However, he was not getting any closer as Plaza was doing a massive job for Chaves, the group picking up Roche, Denifl, Ryss, Pirazzi and Preidler in the process.

 

Scarponi finally decided to wait for Nibali and so left Monfort as the lone leader of the race. Further back, Hernandez had dropped back to the Valverde-Majka group, meaning that the group had more firepower. Boswell, Dupont, Cardoso, Nieve and Ulissi formed the nearest chase group behind Monfort.

 

Kruijswijk finally made it back to a group with Jungels, Atapuma, Verona, Amador, Sutherland and a few more riders. With 30km to go, Monfort was 3 minutes ahead of the Nibali-Chaves group which had caught Scarponi. The Valverde group was just 20 seconds behind while the Kruijswijk group was 30 seconds further adrift.

 

As they hit the flat roads, the Valverde group started to crack as Plaza, Scarponi and Pirazzi worked hard for Nibali and Chaves. The gap went out to 30 seconds as they entered the final 20km. However, things were much worse for Kruijswijk who only got some help from Verona and Jungels and was now 1.40 behind his biggest rivals.

 

With 17km to go, Plaza, Chaves, Nibali, Scarponi, Pirazzi, Preidler, Wyss, Denifl and Roche caught the five chasers, meaning that 14 riders had gathered behind the lone Monfort. They hit the final climb with a delay of 45 seconds. Valverde, Uran, Majka, Hernandez and Herrada had 1.40 to make up while the Kruijswijk group was a massive 3 minutes behind.

 

Pirazzi and Plaza emptied themselves and so it was left to Scarponi to pace the group. Herrada swung off in the Valverde group while Kruijswijk, Jungels, Amador, Clarke, Atapuma surged clear from the big third group. The Australian quickly fell off though.

 

With 10km to go, Monfort was brought back and it was a 10-ruder group that had formed in the lead. Scarponi, Chaves, Nibali, Nieve, Roche, Cardoso, Monfort, Ulissi, Dupont and Preidler led Valverde, Majka and Uran by 1.05 while Kruijswijk, Amador, Jungels, Clarke and Atapuma were at 2.05.

 

With 9km to go, Nibali made his big attack and only Chaves and Nieve could follow. Ulissi slowly made it back and so four riders had gathered in front.

 

Further back, Krujswijk cracked completely and the Dutchman nearly came to a standstill as he saw Jungels, Amador and Atapuma ride away. While Nibali continued to accelerate in the front group, he lost massive amounts of time.

 

Ulissi was dropped from the front group when Nibali attacked again and finally Chaves came through to take a turn. The pair started to work together but a strong Ulissi still managed to make it back.

 

The Valverde group picked up the big chase group and strong pulls by the Spaniard meant that the gap had dropped to 45 seconds with 6km to go. It looked like they were getting back when Nibali made his next move and this time only Chaves could follow.

 

Nibali reduced the pace briefly and then accelerated again. This time Chaves could not respond and the Italian was now riding away from all his rivals.

 

With 3km to go, Nibali had put 15 seconds into Chaves and 1.40 into the Valverde group. Kruijswijk did very well to limit his losses, keeping the gap at around 3.30.

 

Nibali dug deep and continued to increase his advantage while Nieve made it back to Chaves to lend the Colombian a very welcome hand. Meanwhile, Majka, Valverde and Uran had dropped their companions but they were losing ground to Nibali

 

Passing the flamme rouge, Nibali had pushed the advantage out to 42 seconds and he maintained his speed all the way to the finish. The Italian sprinted across the line before raising both arms and bursting into tears.

 

Nieve dropped Chaves in the final kilometre and took second place with a time loss of 51 seconds. Chaves crossed the line two seconds later before Ulissi made it to the finish. Majka, Valverde and Uran lost 2.14.

 

A devastated Kruijswijk reached the finish with a time loss of 4.54 after having emptied himself completely and so dropped to third in the overall standings. Instead, Chaves takes over the maglia rosa with a 44-second advantage over Nibali.

 

However, nothing is guaranteed yet. Chaves faces another big test in the mountains before he can be crowned Giro winner in Turin. The short, intense stage 19 is even harder than today’s stage as the riders face three mountains in just 134km. Right from the start they will go up the Col de Vars and then head back up to more than 2700m of altitude when they go up the Col de la Bonette Restefond. Finally, it is the Colle della Lombarda whose top comes just 10.3km from the finish. A short descent then leads to the 2.5km uphill drag to the line where the Giro champion will be crowned.

 

A brutal stage

After yesterday’s transitional stage, it was time for the first og two stages in the Alps. Stage 19 brought the riders over 162km from Pinerolo to the French ski destination of Risoul and was a brutal affair. After a flat start, the road gradually started to climb until the riders hit the bottom of the might Colle dell’Agnello which was this year’s Cima Coppi, the highest mountain in the race. The final 10.5km averaged a massive 9.3% and led to the top that was located 54.6km from the finish. From there it was a long descent to the bottom of the final climb which led to the finish. It was a very regular climb that averaged 6.9% over 12.85km.

 

As forecasted, there was bright sunshine when the riders gathered for the start. Only Giulio Ciccione (Bardiani) who has fallen ill, stayed at the hotel as the peloton headed out on the first of two major stages in the Alps.

 

Lots of attacks

As expected it was a blisteringly fast start with many attacks, and the riders had covered 8km before a group got a substantial gap. Lukasz Wiśniowski (Etixx-QuickStep) and Tanel Kangert (Astana) got clear but they were brought back a few kilometers later. Instead, Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) tried after15 km of racing but he had no luck either.

 

A 13-rider group briefly got a gap of six seconds, but they were back in the fold at the 25km mark, and so the attacks continued. Especially Maxim Belkov (Katusha) was active, but it was Carlos Verona (Team Quick Step) and Stefan Denifl (IAM) who escaped before the first intermediate sprint. It was won by the Spaniard ahead of his Austrian companion before Eugenio Alafaci (Trek) beat Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) in the fight for third place.

 

28 riders get clear

After the sprint, things came back together and thus Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data), Jay Thomson (Dimension Data) and Alexey Rybalkin (Gazprom) could try. They had no success, but the aggressive Dimension Data refused to give up. Johann van Zyl built up a lead of about 14 seconds, but 3km from the second intermediate sprint he was brought back.

 

Just before the sprint Hubert Dupont, Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r), Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, Michele Scarponi (Astana), Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani), Andre Cardoso, Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Johann van Zyl (Dimension Data), Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep), Stefan Denifl, Marcel Wyss (IAM), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Tim Wellens, Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal), Jose Herrada, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Rory Sutherland (Movistar), Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Ruben Plaza (Orica-GreenEDGE), Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin), Viacheslav Kuznetsov, Egor Silin (Katusha), Ian Boswell, Mikel Nieve, David Lopez, Nicolas Roche (Sky), Jesus Hernandez and Evgeny Petrov (Tinkoff) got clear to form a 28-rider group and this allowed Ulissi to beat Wyss and Monfort in the sprint As they crossed the line, they were 39 seconds ahead of Alexander Kolobnev (Gazprom-Rusvelo) while the peloton crossed the line with a delay of 1.05.

 

The group splits up

Kolobnev was losing ground and when he was more than a minute behind, he decided to sit up. At this point, the gap had gone out to more than 2 minutes but there was no great cooperation. Hence, Lopez, Monfort, Rojas, Silin and Ulissi surged clear and after Wyss had joined the move, the sextet got a 28-second advantage. However, they were brought back as they started the Colle dell’Agnello.

 

In the peloton, LottoNL-Jumbo took control with Maarten Tjallingii and Jos van Emden and they allowed the gap to go out to 4 minutes as they entered the final 70km. Meanwhile, the selection process had started in the break and first it was Wellens and Cunego who lost contact. Later Petrov, Kuznetsov and Kozhatayev also had to surrender and Moser was also dropped. However, Petrov, Kozhatatev and Kuznetsov regained contact.

 

As they hit the steep section, Kuznetsov attacked with his teammate Silin and only Wyss and Ulissi followed. When Kuznetsov swung off, Silin and Ulissi moved clear before Scarponi bridged the gap on his own. The Italian quickly left his companions behind but his role soon changed when the race exploded further back.

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