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Team Sky’s Froome counts four titles from the Tour de France and one from the 2017 Vuelta a España, but his push for the 2018 Giro d’Italia has hit one roadblock after another. Froome slipped back like never before in the southern Abruzzo region that hosted the ninth stage finish to Gran Sasso.
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) won the stage and solidified his lead, but the clock kept ticking at the unforgiving altitude of 2,135 meters. Froome stuck to the wheel of early race leader Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) and teammate Wout Poels but lost hold of them ahead of the line. He finally passed over when the digital numbers read 1:07.
Calculating in Yates’s time bonuses for the stage win, the Brit leads with 32 second over teammate Esteban Chaves and 38 over 2017 race victor Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). Froome dropped two places to 11th at 2:27.
“I was having a tough, tough day,” Froome said of his ride, which saw him lose contact at two kilometers from the finish.
“I’ve definitely had a rough start to this Giro. So today, I was just trying to hang on as best I could, obviously make it to the rest day tomorrow and then reevaluate the position from there.”
His position is a combination of events. He came in with the weight on his shoulders as Tour de France king and as the subject of an on-going case for asthma drug salbutamol. He tested for twice the limit in the Vuelta a España.
He has crashed twice so far in this year’s Giro. Once while warming up for the stage one time trial and another time in the wet stage eight finish to Montevergine di Mercogliano.
“Maybe Froome is suffering from his crashes or maybe he doesn’t have the form, I don’t know,” Yates said of his fellow Brit.
“I was surprised to see Fabio Aru lose time, too, but the Giro is a long race and they could bounce back.”
The time to bounce back will come after Monday’s rest stage in Pescara, which is where Bradley Wiggins crashed during his final grand tour.
The week ahead brings the first of the high-mountain passes and a chance for Froome to return to form and recuperate lost time. The third week continues the high mountains, but importantly for Froome and Dumoulin, begins with a 34.2-kilometer time trial to Rovereto.
“I’ve had a hard time, for sure. It hasn’t been just the one crash, I crashed in Jerusalem before the race even started so I was already on the back foot there. But this is the Giro. I mean, we’ve seen the race turn completely on its head in the past. I’m going to keep the morale up, keep fighting,” Froome continued.
“It’s obviously not the ideal situation to be in, having lost a big chunk of time today. I just have to look ahead now, keep fighting, keep doing the best we can and just take it one day at a time.”
Froome raced the Giro d’Italia in 2009 with Team Barloworld and in 2010, with newly founded Team Sky. After focusing on the Tour for the past few seasons, this is his first attempt to win the overall in the Giro.
“It’s a very different race to other grand tours. It’s earlier in the season you don’t have the same kind of conditions. It’s more unpredictable, more explosive than other grand tours, but that’s just the nature of the beast,” Froome said.
“I can definitely appreciate what makes the Giro special. It’s just it’s own, it has its own character compared to other grand tours. It’s unpredictable. It’s almost like the classics version of a grand tour. The race really can get turned on its head at any point.”