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NERVESA DELLA BATTAGLIA, Italy (VN) — You’d never know by hanging around the Team Sky bus that Chris Froome is lagging more three minutes behind the pink jersey a day ahead of the Giro d’Italia’s most crushing climb.
Team staffers were relaxed and smiling. Riders slipped directly onto the team bus. No post-stage warm-downs after Friday’s long, flat run across Italy’s prosecco country. There’s clearly a lot less stress when you aren’t leading the race.
If there’s tension ahead of the fearsome Zoncolan climb, everyone was doing a good job at hiding it.
“I am obviously hoping for better than I’ve had so far in the race on the climbs,” Froome said after a quick post-stage shower. “Tomorrow is a very decisive stage, a brutal final up Zoncolan. We can expect to see some big gaps on the GC, one way or another.”
Saturday’s Zoncolan summit finale could be make-or-break for Froome’s Giro aspirations.
Now 12th at 3:20 back after 13 stages, if Froome loses more time, a comeback would be all but impossible. If he rides back into contention, however, it would give a huge boost of morale going into Tuesday’s time trial stage in Trento.
“I’d like to have a good day,” Froome said. “I’m up for it and I am motivated.”
Team Sky and Froome are still putting up a brave face ahead of the fearsome Zoncolan climb looming just north of here in the Dolomites.
“We hope Chris will be good,” said Sky sport director Nicolas Portal. “Nothing is lost. Even if things are not great right now. We have not been in this position very often, but it is how it is. Froome is not a machine, but he is enjoying the racing. Let’s go full gas tomorrow and then we will see where we are.”
It seems Froome cannot catch a break so far during this Giro. In every decisive stage, he’s either lost time or barely hung on with the favorites.
A crash just hours ahead of the Jerusalem time trial seemed to set the tone. Any hopes of riding easy into the Giro’s third week were dashed right from the start.
Froome said he’s feeling better, but whether that can translate into a top performance on the Zoncolan to catapult him back into contention remains to be seen.
“This is not the perfect start. It is better to still to try to win the Giro and try to do everything, and not have any regrets,” Portal said. “Nothing is lost trying. We keep believing it is possible, even if it is hard. Tomorrow we will know a bit more for sure.”
When will the four-time Tour de France winner show himself? Or is this struggling, hobbled version of Froome all the peloton can expect to see during the Giro?
The world will have an answer in less than 24 hours.