CORVARA, Italy (VN) — Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing) slunk low over his handlebars moments after nearly winning the biggest victory of his career.
The 28-year-old wasn’t aching for oxygen — living and training at altitude in Colombia had obvious benefits in the Giro d’Italia’s queen stage — but he was simply trying to come to terms to what just happened. It was oh-so-close.
“To come so close, on a stage like today, is devastating,” said Atapuma, fourth on the stage. “I’m exhausted both mentally and physically. It would have been one of the best wins of my career.”
After launching a solo attack out of the main breakaway on the day’s final climb to build a promising 30-second gap, Atapuma was reeled with just two kilometers to go. After going all-in on the attack, he had nothing left for the final sprint, and slumped across the line fourth in what some say was the hardest Giro stage in nearly a decade.
“To be honest, I think I need a while to really absorb what happened today,” he said. “In a stage like today, it’s rare that everything goes to plan.”
The win would have been huge for the plucky climber often overshadowed by his more successful and famous compatriots. A winner of just two races — a stage at the Tour of Poland and another at Giro del Trentino — Atapuma battled back from a broken femur suffered in the 2014 Tour de France to regain top fitness for this Giro.
After attacking in Friday’s stage to reveal he was on good form, he rode into a big, 25-rider breakaway in Saturday’s brutal, six-climb stage across the high cols of the Dolomites. His aggression almost paid off, until stage-winner Esteban Chaves (Orica—GreenEdge) and Steve Kruijswijk (LottoNL—Jumbo bridged up, dragging along with them breakaway rider Georg Preidler (Giant—Alpecin). The trio caught him inside 2km to go.
“I gave it absolute everything when I attacked on the final climb,” he said. “I thought if I could just hold on to my gap in the descent, I could make it in those final kilometers. I just kept hoping and hoping that I would stay clear.”
BMC Racing came to this Giro without a clear GC candidate, so it’s been mixing it up in the breakaways in the hunt for a stage win. Atapuma’s heroic ride almost delivered.
“It was such an impressive ride and he deserved the win, but cycling isn’t always fair and we definitely saw that today,” said BMC sport director Max Sciandri. “I’m proud of Darwin’s ride, and it certainly shows his form at the moment.”
Atapuma vows to keep fighting, but he knows he might not get another chance like this ever again.