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Wow. Did you see that?
That’s pretty much all we can say about the dramatic events of today’s Giro d’Italia stage 19. We’ve known for weeks that the brutal stage had the potential to shakeup the general classification. After all, the route included the fearsome Col delle Finestre, the climb to Sestriere, and then a summit finish on the Jafferau. We even predicted that Chris Froome and Team Sky would mount some kind of raid to jump up in the GC.
Nobody predicted that Froome would mount a solo 80-kilometer effort, win by more than 3 minutes, and seize the maglia rosa in the process. Wow, indeed.
Is this the best Grand Tour ride ever? Can we believe in Froome’s performance? Let’s roundtable!
Froome’s raid today is the greatest grand tour performance since…
Fred Dreier @freddreier: It’s right up there with Floyd Landis’s dramatic stage 17 attack during the 2006 Tour de France. Like Landis, Froome found himself looking at a time disadvantage that was, at least on paper, insurmountable in this modern age of pro cycling. And like Landis, he summoned some extra special grinta for this raid, and got the job done. Kudos to Team Sky for finding Week 1 legs during this brutal third week of the Giro, as their punishing tempo on the Finestre took care of half the battle. Froome’s ability to somehow put time into three determined chasers — even on flat roads — was the other half. Also, today’s raid had a similar feel to the 2005 Giro, when Gilberto Simon, Danilo Di Luca, and Jose Rujano put on a similarly long raid to try and dethrone Paolo Savoldelli. Only that day, Savoldelli closed the gap.
Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: Since the 2016 Vuelta when he was ambushed on the short stage to Formigal and lost the red jersey. What Froome did Friday in the Giro was impressive, amazing, unbelievable, but it didn’t take quite the same tactical nous. That day in Spain, when Contador and Quintana sprung their trap was an exquisite blend of perfect timing, tactics, and brute force.
Dane Cash @danecash: Alberto Contador in stage 17 of the 2012 Vuelta. The Spaniard’s famous raid at Fuente De was another instance of a star GC rider roaring into the lead with an unexpected long-distance strike — although Froome attacked from even further out.
It’s cycling, so scrutiny is expected for a ride of this nature. Why is Froome’s raid believable?
Fred: Plenty of great champions have shown the ability to get stronger in the third week of a Grand Tour. It’s the old “ride yourself into shape” routine. Jan Ullrich used to do it all the time, as did Roberto Heras, Aitor Gonzalez, and even Ivan Gotti. Chris Horner really came on strong in that final week to win the 2013 Vuelta. Stefano Garzelli put in an unpredictably strong time trial to win the 2000 Giro in dramatic fashion on the penultimate stage. So yeah, it’s not unheard of.
Spencer: It’s believable because he’s been riding into form this Giro and gradually recovering from his earlier crashes. He is waxing while his rivals (definitely Yates, probably Dumoulin to a point) are waning. And let’s not forget that a healthy portion of Froome’s advantage was due to his descending off the Finestre. The only drug I’ve found to give me courage is booze, and doubt there was Champagne in Froome’s bidons.
Dane: For me, the aspects of Froome’s Giro that are worth scrutiny are mostly related to his return to form after a sluggish start. The fact that an in-form Froome put a few minutes into Tom Dumoulin and a few other very good but not top-tier climbers in the mountains… That’s not all that surprising to me, at least not eyebrow-raisingly so. Peak Froome has proven capable of collecting heaps of time in some of the hardest stages on the WorldTour calendar over the years, and it wasn’t Nairo Quintana he was up against out there today.
What could Dumoulin have done differently to limit his losses today?
Fred: Dumoulin needed to be willing to risk complete implosion to get back to Froome’s wheel at the summit of the Finestre. I know, it sounds so simple. In the moment, my guess is he (and everyone else, for that matter) simply thought that 80km was far too long for Froome to ride solo, and that there would be a regrouping on the descent and then a concerted chase to bring Froome back. Who stays away for 80k? This conservative thinking was Dumoulin’s downfall. Sometimes you need to be willing to risk total failure in order to have success.
Spencer: I think he needed to go into the red to follow Froome on the Finestre. He was saddled with two riders who were squabbling for the best young rider’s jersey (Carapaz and Lopez); Pinot was working, but not hard enough, and Reichenbach was just happy to be there. It wasn’t the right group to mount a chase.
Dane: Be a better climber? Ride for a better team? It’s hard to point out anything glaringly wrong with his tactics, anything that would have put him in pink at the end of the day, considering how much stronger Froome seemed to be. Obviously Dumoulin could have tried staying glued to Froome’s wheel but who could have expected Froome’s attack from that far out? And who’s to say Dumoulin stays with Froome anyway?
How will Froome’s performance at this Giro rank against his other Grand Tour rides?
Fred: Time to get hyperbolic. It’s the best Froome ride ever, hands down. Nothing even comes close. When they write the final Wikipedia entry for Chris Froome, Stage 19 of the 2018 Giro d’italia should be the first line item.
Spencer: It is far and away his best performance. He has never been so bold as to attack with 80km to go. The other mountaintop victories and GC wins are impressive but none have quite the same gritty panache and determination.
Dane: In terms of pure excitement in one day of racing, today’s stage is at the top by a mile. In terms of impressive three-week performances… at the end of the day, it’s still the Giro d’Italia and not the Tour de France. As much as I love watching the Giro, I have a hard time ranking the totality of Froome’s overall Giro performance ahead of his dominant first Tour victory, when he crushed the competition in the first climbing stage and hammered nails into coffins in the time trial.