We said in our Cycling Central podcast last week that we were waiting for the Giro to explode. And last night it happened. Nibali blew, Chaves chased, Valverde danced, Kruijswijk proved that he’s a deserving leader of the race.
Wednesday 25 May 2016
Queen Stage winner Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) retained second place on the general classification after the attack filled Stage 16.
The smiling Colombian was forced to chase after race leader Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) went clear with Stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in the last 60 kilometres.
Strong work from team-mates Ruben Plaza and Damien Howson brought Chaves onto the penultimate climb with the Colombian valiantly taking up the reigns to eventually finish in eighth place.
“I probably made a mistake underestimating the attack,” said Chaves. “Thanks to my team-mates we managed to save the day. I’m really thankful for how they rode for me and I managed to keep the pace on the last climb.
“These explosive stages are always dangerous and I definitely tip my hat to Steven (Kruijswijk). One more day done and we are ready to fight on.”
Chaves wasn’t the only one caught out by the speed and urgency of last night’s attacks.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted how aggressive the racing was going to be today,” said Orica-GreenEDGE sport director, Matt White. “The way the other favourites rode on the first climb totally annihilated the bunch and turned into a very dangerous situation for us.
“Thanks to Damien (Howson) and Ruben (Plaza) we certainly managed to contain what could have been a disastrous day.
“There was a lapse of concentration when the attack came at the top of the first climb which is why we had to chase, but we are still in a good position after an interesting day and lots of racing still to come.”
Chaves lost 42 seconds on the general classification, but held his second place. He now sits an even three minutes down on Kruijswijk with five more stages to come.
In other news from Orica-GreenEDGE, Luca Mezgec has been forced to withdraw from the final week of the race, with a confirmed scaphoid fracture sustained in a crash on Stage 11.
“It just goes to show how much of a hard man he is to ride the last five stages with pain and still deliver Caleb (Ewan) perfectly for a sprint to second on stage twelve with a broken wrist,” said White.
“You’ve got to admire Luka’s spirit and work ethic. Myself and everyone at Orica-GreenEDGE wish him a speedy recovery and a swift return to the team.”
Vencenzo Nibali (Astana) attacked early on, determined to make up for a time trial to forget. Unfortunately for the 2013 Giro d’Italia champion, he went backwards from then on.
Nibali finished 11th on the stage, conceding another minute and 47 seconds to the maglia rosa, and dropping to fourth overall.
"I'm not myself," Nibali said, according to Cyclingnews.
"We've had a few surprises ourselves in the last few days because it seemed that his condition was optimal and that he was ready for the tough days coming up," said Astana’s team doctor, Emilio Magni, also according to Cyclingnews, as the team desperately search for an answer to the Sicilian’s hot and cold performances over the last two weeks.
A time trial to forget
"On Sunday [in the Stage 15 time trial] he was already below what we expected and that surprised us a bit.
"We already examined him yesterday and to find a more convincing answer, we'll have some laboratory tests done tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Right now, I don't feel like I can make a hypothesis."
While Nibali is clearly gutted about his slide to fourth, Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin is over the moon after rising a position to fifth. He sits a mere seven seconds from the fading Nibali.
The Katusha team leader put himself in the front group during Stage 16 to try for the stage win in addition to his GC ambitions.
“We started the first climb very fast, there were a lot of attacks to go in the break,” said Zakarin.
“I knew I could gain some time today and I did my best on both climbs, especially in the final. I did all I could. I was able to get time and to move up in GC. There are still a few hard stages ahead and I will continue step by step.”
By the end of the stage Zakarin was riding side by side with overall leader, Kruijswijk, and eventual stage winner, Valverde.
The trio of riders raced in for the stage win with Zakarin taking charge in the last kilometre. Coming close to the finish line Valverde and then Kruijswijk sprinted away to take the first two places, leaving third for the young Russian.
Kruijswick has yet to get a stage win but by holding on to a surging Valverde all the way to the line he demonstrated that he is a deserving winner of the 2016 Giro d’Italia if he can continue with his consistent form over the remaining week.
The LottoNL-Jumbo rider appears to be harnessing a mix of confidence and caution that come with being the leader of the race.
“Obviously, I wanted to win time for the standings. I sat the whole day where I needed to, but I also had to work hard to get into the leading group. The situation in the race was perfect and the time gain is sweet. Over the next few days, the stages are flat but then you have to be very careful," he said.
9.7km from the finish and just shy of the top of the penultimate climb, when Chaves made his move on the steepest section he was marked by Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) and found he couldn’t escape alone.
A quick conversation between Majka and his GC rival and it was clear they were going to work together to pull in the gap but also put distance between them and Nibali who was falling off the back and unable to respond.
Majka had used a lot of effort to recover distance on the breakaway and the impact showed. “For 40km he was in the chasing group at between twenty and forty seconds, and it was just thirty-five seconds at the bottom of the next climb," said Tinkoff sport director, Tristan Hoffman.
“Chaves kept pulling on the climb and he (Majka) was able to follow which was good but he had to set his own pace towards the top.”
Majka started to drop back on the final climb of the day but in spite of this the Polish rider bravely pushed on to the finish, crossing the line only fifty seconds after the stage winner.
Majka finished almost a minute in front of Nibali and some of his other GC rivals, but his result saw him move down one place in the overall standings to sixth.
“We hoped for a little bit more but he's still in a good place,” said Hoffman. “Pawel Poljanski worked hard for Rafal today between the mountains, and it was good to have him there to help as there weren't many riders in the front part. It was a very tough day.”
After constant and aggressive attacks split the field early on, for riders who missed the break that saw Valverde, Zakarin and Kruijswijk get away, the final kilometres of the race were all about limiting their losses to the front and extended the gap to Nibali who was behind.
Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) was another rider who was instrumental in reducing Valverde’s winning margin. In the final 500m, despite putting everything on the line up until that point, Jungels still had enough to sprint to fifth and gain a place in the general classification, jumping to seventh.
The strong ride from the 23-year-old helped him reinforce his position in the white jersey classification for the best young rider.
"I now have an even bigger advantage over the next rider in the U25 standings, but the Giro d'Italia is still long. Today I stayed with the best and I hope to keep the momentum over the next couple of stages left until Turin."