Chaves finds life metaphor in Giro stage victory
It's been a long, slow road back from illness for Esteban Chaves, but finally his determination is paying off
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Esteban Chaves pushed for a stage win two days ago in this year’s Giro d’Italia. He got frustratingly close with a second place, but what he hadn’t counted on was the strength of Nans Peters.
But he pushed again on stage 19.
On the lower slopes of the ascent to San Martino di Castrozza, it looked like he might have been frustrated once more. For however many attacks he chucked at the likes of Andrea Vendrame (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), François Bidard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Pieter Serry (Deceuninck-Quick Step), the two-time grand tour stage winner just wasn’t getting away from them.
Was he still just not strong enough after being sidelined in 2018 by Epstein-Barr virus?
Finally, with 2.7km to go, the Colombian climber got the slip.
“I believe that life can be summed up in today’s final climb,” he said after taking the victory. “No matter how hard things might get, you have to keep attacking, keep trying, keep pushing, because you never know when everything can turn around and you will be first across the finish line.”
It was, as he says, “an incredible day” for him. Last year at the Giro, he was looking in great shape. He won the stage to Mount Etna and was riding in a co-operative second place behind team mate Simon Yates when, on an innocuous looking stage, he was dropped on an early climb and never recovered.
Not that day. Not for the rest of the year. Essentially, not until this stage win.
“It’s been one year to the week since he got the illness,” commented his Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “We found out after the  Giro d’Italia that he was positive with the virus. We don’t know exactly where he contracted it, but halfway through last year’s Giro he was in second place and then the wheels fell off.
“He didn’t race again for the rest of the year. You’ve got to be conservative with that virus because if you push it too early, it can ruin your career. Even at the start of this year we were very conservative through February and March.”
Chaves returned to racing in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. After that came Andalusia, Paris-Nice and Catalunya before he returned to Bogata and his usual Giro build-up. Look through his results and you can see light flashes of progression. But even in the first couple of weeks of this Giro, White says he was playing things cautiously.
Pushing forwards maybe, but with restraint.
“He didn’t want to dig himself into a hole,” said White. “The closer we’ve got to finish, the more confident he was about putting it out there.”
Chaves’ parents were on the finish line in San Martino di Castrozza and he was greeted with emotional hugs.
“[This is] a liberation from the past two or three years of setbacks and difficulties, always with ups and downs,” Chaves said of his win. “This is a thanks to everyone who is always around me, my family, my team, my friends, my foundation.
“I never felt pressured, we’ve been here working, but it was a very special day because it shows that dreams can come true. Today I am realizing a dream once again. To have my family waiting at the finish line is something special.”
While Chaves says the stage victory shows he can again perform at “a maximum level”, White notes that he’s still got a lot more room for improvement.
“He’s got better as the Giro’s gone on, but he’s still not in the best shape of his career; far from it,” he said “It’s great that he’s got that win under his belt. But the most positive thing for him is his mental state. He’s going to finish the Giro knowing he’s not sick.
“He’s got through his first grand tour in 12 months, and he’s still got a lot of room to move to get back to where he was in 2016.”
No doubt, Chaves will keep pushing to get there.