Bob Jungels defends pink jersey with panache
The Luxembourger held his top place in the overall rankings, on a day in which former leader Gianluca Brambilla was involved in a huge crash.
Attack, counterattack, attack, counterattack – the last 20 kilometers of Giro d'Italia stage 11 had more action than a Bruce Willis "Die Hard" movie, and if John McClane was hard to get rid of, so was Bob Jungels, the overall leader of the Giro d'Italia. Many were expecting to see a sprinters' fest at the finish in Asolo, on a flat day with just a sting in the tail, but the stage turned out to be one for the GC riders, who signaled their intentions on the tough slopes of Forcella Mostaccin, a fourth-category climb with an average gradient of 10% over 2.9 kilometers and sections of even 16%.
Alone in the main group – after a crash that occurred a few kilometers earlier held most of his teammates behind – Bob found himself alone in the pack and attacked from all over the place, especially by the Movistar riders, who were keen to help Andrey Amador get the pink jersey at the end of the day. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Carlos Betancur (Movistar) were the first to launch an attack, but the 23-year-old Luxembourger neutralized those actions, with a move which showed maturity and confidence beyond his age. Then, right before the top of the climb, Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) forged a break, which stayed at the front until the descent ended, Bob being once again the one to lead the chase.
On the flat, it was the turn of Amador to attack and get a small gap, before the maglia rosa decided the time has come to take things into his own hands. Using his strong time trialling skills, the Etixx – Quick-Step rider made contact with the Costa Rican and giving a short look over the shoulder, decided to keep going and increase his gap on the other GC guys. Approaching the final lump of the day inside the last five kilometers, Bob spent his every ounce of energy, honouring the maglia rosa and showing to his opponents that they will have a hard time taking it from his shoulders.
From behind, Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) accelerated on the short climb and caught Jungels and Amador, and the trio worked together to hold the chase. In the last kilometers, Bob moved again to the front and rode full gas, his effort eventually paying off in Asolo, where he finished third, notching his first podium in a Grand Tour, as well as bonifications on the line and important time on the road, which meant that now all the other riders, except for Amador, are at least one minute adrift, halfway through the race.
"I felt good today, but for sure it wasn't easy out there, especially as the crash took out of the pack some of our guys. On the climb, as soon as the attacks came, the group was narrowed to 7-8 riders. Then, when Amador went, I knew I had to follow him, so I made the most out of that action. When Ulissi bridged across, I became aware of the fact that I won't have a chance in a sprint, so I decided to go for seconds and try to take as many as possible. Overall, I'm content with the outcome of the stage and I'm looking forward to the next days", said Bob Jungels, a champion in the making, who brought Etixx – Quick-Step its fifth maglia rosa at the 99th Giro d'Italia.
It wasn't all roses on Wednesday, as several riders of the team were involved in the massive crash that split the peloton at 30 kilometers to go. Carlos Verona ended up with a right ankle contusion and pain at his right side ribs, Pieter Serry suffered two contusions, on his left knee, respectively right ankle, while Gianluca Brambilla, sixth at the start of the stage, is experiencing back pain after crashing and being hit by another rider from behind, an incident in which he also broke his wheel.
"Unfortunately, somebody hit me from behind right before the key moment of the day, and I couldn't return to the bunch. It's a pity, because I was having strong legs and was confident in what I could do on that climb. Hopefully, it isn't anything serious and tomorrow, when a flat course awaits, I will have an easy day and recover", were the words of Gianluca, who is still sitting in the top 10 overall, despite conceding more than one minute at the finish.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele