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Chaves takes Giro lead as Kruijswijk crashes into snowbank

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RISOUL, France — Steven Kruijswijk crashed into a snowbank on a dangerous descent and Colombian rider Esteban Chaves surprisingly took the overall lead in the Giro d’Italia following a wild 19th stage Friday.

Vincenzo Nibali won his first stage of this year’s race and moved up from fourth to second overall, only 44 seconds behind Chaves, with one more challenging leg to go before the 99th edition of the race ends in Turin on Sunday.

“I won with rage today. It hasn’t been easy to handle everything that has happened over the past few days,” said Nibali, the pre-race favorite who struggled over the past week.

Having begun the stage with a three-minute lead, Kruijswijk dropped to third overall, 1:05 behind Chaves.

“I’m happy to have the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) and be so close to winning the Giro but there’s another hard stage tomorrow,” Chaves said. “I’m sorry for Steven Kruijswijk. He made a small mistake in the downhill but he defended himself very courageously.”

Shortly after coming over the foggy Colle dell’Agnello pass, the highest point of the race at an altitude of 2,744 meters (9,000 feet), Kruijswijk lost control on a left turn and collided with a big wall of snow. The Dutchman flipped forward in the air and landed hard on his back and left arm, causing some painful scrapes and dirtying his pink jersey.

After putting his hand to his head to check that his helmet was still intact, Kruijswijk went to recover his bike, which needed mechanical assistance from a neutral race official’s car. Then he had to stop again, once his Team Lotto NL-Jumbo car had finally caught up to give him a spare bike to use.

Ilnur Zakarin, the Russian with Katusha who was fifth overall, had a more serious fall on the descent and had to abandon the race with a reported broken left collarbone.

Nibali clocked nearly 4 hours, 20 minutes over the 162-kilometer (101-mile) leg from Pinerolo to Risoul, France.

Mikel Landa, a Spaniard with Sky, finished second, 51 seconds behind, and Chaves was next, 53 seconds back.

Nibali attacked Chaves and dropped the Colombian on the final climb to Risoul, which could give the Italian the impetus to do the same thing Saturday. The 20th stage is a 134-kilometer (83-mile) leg from Guillestre, France, to Sant’Anna di Vinadio that features three first-category climbs and finishes uphill with a third-category ascent.

“I tried to stay with Nibali but he was too strong for me today,” Chaves said.

An aching Kruijswijk crossed nearly five minutes after Nibali.

Alejandro Valverde also struggled, and dropped from third to fourth overall, 1:48 back.

The 26-year-old Chaves is a pure climber who won the race’s “queen” stage, the 14th leg across the Dolomites. The Orica-Greenedge rider also won two stages en route to a fifth-place finish in last year’s Spanish Vuelta. He’s attempting to become the second Colombian to win the Giro after Nairo Quintana in 2014.

Kruijswijk had taken the lead following the 14th stage and appeared to be cruising toward victory.

Attempting to follow Nibali and Chaves, Kruijswijk’s crash occurred with about 50 kilometers (30 miles) to go and he had no teammates around to help him. Nibali, by contrast, was aided on the finishing climb to Risoul by Astana teammate Michele Scarponi, who slowed up to help his captain after going ahead in an early breakaway.

Following Saturday’s final test in the mountains, the race ends Sunday with a flat 163-kilometer (101-mile) leg from Cuneo to Turin.

After Giro win, Froome quickly changes focus to Tour

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ROME (AP) Now that Chris Froome has wrapped up the Giro d’Italia title, his focus will quickly switch to matching the record with a fifth Tour de France title – unless a doping case gets in the way.

Froome is racing under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.

Froome maintains he has long struggled with asthma.

“I know I’ve done nothing wrong,” he said after lifting the Giro trophy Sunday .

“Obviously the next challenge for me has got to be the Tour de France,” Froome added. “I’m already thinking about it.”

Still, it remains unclear when the International Cycling Union will rule on the case, which could result in a lengthy ban.

“We’ve been focused on the race here and we’ll look at that in the weeks to come,” Team Sky director Dave Brailsford told The Associated Press.

No rider has achieved the Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.

“I’ve got to celebrate what an amazing victory this was but I’m definitely going to keep things tidy tonight thinking about recovering from this,” Froome said. “I really think it’s possible.”

There are six weeks between the Giro and Tour, so Froome will need to carefully calibrate the balance between rest, recovery and training.

“There’s a difference between physical and mental rest and switching off completely,” Brailsford said. “The trick here is to stay in the same gear but obviously you got to recover and then get fresh enough to be able to go again. Switching off totally and relaxing totally is not the way to do it.”

With one more Tour title, Froome will match the record held by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Lance Armstrong had won seven Tour titles but was stripped of them all for doping.

With the Tour starting a week later than usual because of the soccer World Cup in Russia, Froome has the luxury of extra time to prepare.

Sky sporting director Nicolas Portal said Froome would likely follow the Giro with one week of rest, then a training camp at altitude followed by high-intensity training.

The Tour runs July 7-29 and Froome plans to inspect some of the course before it starts.

“We’ve got a few more (stages) to do, then obviously we want to work a little bit on the team time trial and we’re probably going to go through the cobbles again,” Brailsford said. “There’s a bit of work to be done.”

Besides the usual mountain stages, this year’s Tour features a team time trial in Stage 3, a 35-kilometer (22-mile) route starting and ending in Cholet in western France.

Stage 9 could also be tricky, with 15 treacherous cobblestone sections: the highest number since the 1980 Tour, with nearly 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) altogether.

“He’s pretty confident about it, actually,” Brailsford said. “He’s happy on the dirt, he’s happy on a mountain bike and I think he’ll be happy on the cobbles.”

 

Froome effectively seals Giro title in penultimate stage

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CERVINIA, Italy (AP) Chris Froome effectively sealed victory in the Giro d’Italia on Saturday by holding his only remaining challenger in check up the final climb of the three-week race.

The four-time Tour de France champion takes a 40-second lead over Tom Dumoulin into Sunday’s mostly ceremonial finish in Rome and is poised to win his third consecutive Grand Tour, matching the achievements of cycling greats Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault.

Dumoulin attacked Froome multiple times on the finishing climb of the 214-kilometer (133-mile) leg from Susa to Cervinia but in five attempts wasn’t able to gain any ground. After Dumoulin’s fifth attack, Froome responded with an acceleration of his own and dropped Dumoulin briefly.

Spanish rider Mikel Nieve of the Mitchelton-Scott team won the stage with a long, solo breakaway to celebrate his 34th birthday.

The concluding stage is a flat 115-kilometer (71-mile) leg of 10 laps around a circuit through the center of Rome.