On the morning of 25 May 2018, Chris Froome had virtually lost the Giro d’Italia.
With just three stages left, including the final showcase stage in Rome, Team Sky’s captain was fourth overall, 3’22” down on the race leader, Simon Yates. He had fallen behind Pozzovivo and Dumoulin as well. That day, before the start, Froome must have thought that finishing in fourth or in eleventh wouldn’t have made a big difference. He was only there to win, and he would have given it all, he would have chanced his luck just to do something memorable.
The imminent stage, featuring the Colle delle Finestre as Cima Coppi, just served his purpose.
It was one of the hardest and most beautiful climbs in Europe, snaking its way for 18 kilometres through the woods from the Val di Susa to the Val Chisone, first on tarmac and then on gravel for the final 8 km.
Yet, as he got on stage for signature check, as he posed for the pre-stage photoshoot, as he lined up at the start line in Venaria Reale, perhaps there was a voice whispering in his ear, “Chris, the Colle delle Finestre is a long and brutal climb, but the finish will be a further 75 km away. You’re lucky that the Sestriere comes just past the descent, but what will happen next? You’ll be faced with over 30 km of a false‑flat stretch before the final and painful 9,000 metres to the Jafferau. Chris, are you sure?”
He was. He had made up his mind already. The entire team was with him. His mates would push the pace along the tarmac, and as soon as he hit the gravel, Chris would pull away. His masseurs would be waiting for him at each kilometre, handing out water bottles, energy bars and anything he needed. He would either succeed or take a beating. Forget about anything in between.
Clearly, his rivals had no idea he was plotting something as big and daring, crazy and incredible.
Yates, the race leader, was the first to notice. The blistering pace set by the domestiques of the ‘White Kenyan’ was too much for him to endure: he cracked before the team even began to attack. He would finish over forty minutes back, and his dream of pink would be over.
The large crowds on the gravel slopes, too, could not imagine what was going to happen.
When they saw a lone rider coming from below – tall and slender like the larches at the roadside, his jersey as white as the patches of lingering snow on the surrounding meadows – many of them may have thought, “How brave it is of Team Sky to send Wout Poels scouting ahead!”
As that rider got closer, with his elbows wide open, his easy pedalling, and his head slightly tilted on a side, they stared in disbelief as they witnessed something extraordinary and unimaginable in modern cycling. That bold rider who had pulled away a whopping 83 kilometres from the finish was not the captain’s domestique. It was Chris Froome himself.
What he did that day would go down into history as one of the greatest achievements of the last decades. A day of insane courage that earned him both stage victory and the Maglia Rosa.
The Colle delle Finestre and the Giro d'Italia
2018: Stage 19, Venaria Reale – Bardonecchia Jafferau
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: Christopher FROOME
Chris Froome rode a stage that went down into history.
The GC leader Yates cracked early while climbing the Colle delle Finestre, with 86 km remaining. He failed to keep up with the peloton and fell out of contention, suffering the ignominy of reaching the summit 15 minutes back. Froome attacked at 80 km out, on the gravel section. Tom Dumoulin and Thibaut Pinot tried to respond but eventually caved in. Froome cleared the climb, solo, 40 or so seconds ahead of Pinot, Carapaz, Lopez and Pinot. Pozzovivo, slightly further behind, slowly went adrift. Froome sustained his attack along the descent, and by the time he reached the bottom, his lead had extended to 1’50”. Along the Sestriere, the gap was further up to 2’40”, a mere 10 seconds behind Dumoulin’s virtual Maglia Rosa. The Dutchman tried to set up a chase, waiting for Pinot and his teammate, Reichenbach. Dumoulin was tired and didn’t want to spend all his energies, but since Lopez Moreno and Carapaz were completely unresponsive, every effort was up to the three of them. At the lower slopes of the closing climb, however, Froome had already ridden into the pink jersey: his lead over Dumoulin and the others had reached 3’20”. On the Jafferau, Pinot, Carapaz and Lopez took turns in attacking, hindering Dumoulin who, however, managed to keep second overall, 40 seconds down on Froome. Pinot moved up to third, 4’17” down on Froome. A tearful Yates finished nearly 39 minutes back.
2015: Stage 20, Saint-Vincent – Sestriere
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: LANDA MEANA Mikel
2011: Stage 20, Verbania – Sestriere
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: KIRYIENKA Vasil
Despite falling behind on the gravel section of the Colle delle Finestre, Contador managed the situation carefully, and eventually succeeded in limiting the damage without cracking. Aru attacked at 2 kilometres out, dropped everyone on the closing climb, and landed a stunning solo win, shaving 2’25” off Contador’s lead. The Spaniard however, managed to retain an overall lead of 2’02”, hence staking a final claim on the 2015 Giro.
2005: Stage 19, Savigliano – Sestriere
FIRST RIDER ACROSS THE SUMMIT: DI LUCA Danilo
A thrilling finale along the unpaved part of the Colle delle Finestre. Rujano, Di Luca and Simoni attacked Savoldelli, who continued along at a solid tempo, taking care to have food at regular intervals. Simoni was virtual race leader at the summit, although Savoldelli and the others joined forces along the descent. Towards the race finale, on the approach to Sestriere, Di Luca and Simoni were faced with fatigue and cramps. Rujano took the stage, while Savoldelli managed to limit the losses, staking the final claim on his second Giro.