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Esteban Chaves couldn't hang on for a stage win...

Chaves, Orica ready to realize pink jersey dreams

With the pink jersey in hand, Esteban Chaves is mustering his Orica – GreenEdge team for a pivotal day in the mountains Saturday.

RISOUL, FRANCE (VN) – Esteban Chaves is readying for an almighty scrap for overall victory at the Giro d’Italia in Saturday’s final mountain stage after taking the race lead on Friday.

While the Giro finishes on Sunday with the 163km stage 21 from Cuneo to Torino, the fight for the overall winner’s maglia rosa will be decided in the Alps on Saturday.

The 134km stage 20 from Guillestre to Sant’Anna di Vinadio is the last mountain stage of the Giro and includes four major categorized climbs — the category 1 Col de Vars, Col de la Bonnette, and Colle della Lombarda, as well as the third category ascent to the finish line.

After Friday’s stage 19, 162km from Pinerolo to Risoul in France, Orica – GreenEdge’s Chaves is now first overall after starting the day placed second. Now second at 44 seconds is Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who won on Friday, followed at 1 minute, 5 seconds by Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL – Jumbo) who lost first place. Spaniard Alejandro Valverde is also in the fray, sitting fourth at 1 minutes 48 seconds.

Chaves, who finished third in Friday’s stage at 53 seconds to Nibali and two seconds behind Spaniard Mikel Nieve (Sky), is wary of the tight margins with his rivals.

“Tomorrow is the toughest stage for sure,” Chaves said after Friday’s sensational stage. “The last stage [in the mountains] always is, and now there are the riders within a minute.”

However, the Colombian from Bogota is certainly not daunted by the opportunity that awaits him, that being to win his first grand tour and also become the second Colombian to ever win the Giro — the first being Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who won the race in 2014.

An overall victory by Chaves would also mark the first grand tour win by an Australian team.

“Today we raced to attack,” Chaves, 26, continued. “Tomorrow, we can ride to defend the jersey and so stay more calm, with our feet on the ground. It’s also a short stage.

“If we take the jersey home, I’ll be ‘bellissimo.’ If not, we’ll have done our very best.”

Chaves is also wanting to share the opportunity and its outcome with those closest to him.

“I hope this dream can come true,” Chaves said. “This means a lot of work for my team, but we always believed we could do this. Thanks to my family and all who were involved and who have helped me in the difficult moments. This jersey shows that dreams can true.”

On Friday, Chaves was quick, as always, to thank the riders on his Australian team. He began his press conference by saying, “Before talking about the stage today [it] was a very special day for me and my country. The team worked incredibly; all of them were great.”

On the Col Dell’Agnello, his teammates were very active, first with a surge by Australian Damien Howsen and then Spaniard Amets Txurruka as they led the overall contenders’ group, isolating Kruijswijk before the summit and distancing Valverde.

Ruben Plaza also played a critical role for Chaves as the stage exploded. He dropped back to join Chaves following Kruijswijk’s crash. Nibali also had a teammate in front drop back to help him, Italian Michele Scarponi.

“We attacked early but had to do to gain time,” said Chaves who started the day three minutes down on Kruijswijk overall. “I struggled to stay with Nibali on the descent, but I stayed with him. I’m sorry for for Kruijswijk who crashed. I didn’t see it, but heard [about it] on the radio. At the end of the day Nibali was the strongest, and I couldn’t stay with him.”

Orica head sport director Matt White was all thumbs up for the outcome of Friday’s stage. But he is far from in celebration mode with Saturday’s crucial stage to come.

“We wanted to get someone in the breakaway today that’s for sure,” said White. “After [Thursday’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 75 kilometers 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. 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.”

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