Chris Froome says he will take the Giro d’Italia one day at a time as he looks to make up a deficit of nearly two and a half minutes to race leader Simon Yates of Mitchelton-Scott during the remaining 12 stages.
Team Sky’s Froome lost more than a minute to his fellow Briton as Yates won Stage 9 of the race on the Gran Sasso yesterday and now lies in 11th place overall, 2 minutes 27 seconds behind Yates.
Today is the second rest day, with racing resuming tomorrow with the longest stage of the 101st edition of the Giro, covering 239 kilometres through hilly terrain from Penne to Gualdo Tadino.
That’s followed by two more hilly stages and a flatter day that provides a rare opportunity for the sprinters before the battle for the overall resumes in earnest, with five mountain stages and an individual time trial among the remaining eight days’ racing.
Tour de France and Vuelta champion Froome, currently trying to clear his name after returning an adverse analytical finding for elevated levels of the anti-asthma drug salbutamol during the Spanish race, had begun the Giroin Jerusalem with the aim of being just the third cyclist in history to win three consecutive Grand Tours.
However, a crash ahead of the opening time trial got his challenge off to a bad start. He hit the deck again on Saturday’s Stage 8, and was distanced by his main rivals in the final kilometres of the Gran Sasso yesterday, but in comments reported on the Team Sky website today he insisted that believes he will get stronger throughout the race.
“I always came into the Giro with the plan of building into the race, with the bigger goal of doing the Giro d’Italia and going on to the Tour de France,” the 32-year-old said.
“It was never my objective to arrive right at the beginning of the Giro absolutely firing on all cylinders because as we’ve seen in riders who’ve done that in the past, they reach July and just have nothing.
“I was always looking to build through this period, but I think the crash [in Jerusalem] was a setback to me. I also think the second crash [on Stage 8] didn’t help, also on my right side, but we’re here and that’s the nature of cycling.
“I’m here, soaking it up, and really enjoying racing here in Italy. It’s been tough but it’s been good bike racing.”
Turning to the performance of Yates, whose team mate Esteban Chavez lies second overall, he said: “Mitchelton-Scott are in such a commanding position and they’ve ridden such a good race so far.
“It’s great to see another Brit in the leader’s jersey. I’m genuinely happy for Simon. It’s a huge achievement, what he’s been able to do so far, and he seems to be coping really well under pressure.
“I’m going to be trying to give him a tough time in the second half of this race but nonetheless it’s great to see another Brit in pink. He’s got the team to support him, so he’s definitely going to take a lot of beating.”
Referring to his deficit to Yates, he continued: “It is a big gap, but we’ve got some extremely tough racing coming and we’ve got a long time trial as well. I wouldn’t say it’s likely at this point, but stranger things have happened.”
While that 34.2 kilometre time trial should on paper give a fully-fit Froome an opportunity to make up time on Yates, the Team Sky man is also currently 2 minutes 16 seconds behind the reigning world champion in the discipline – and 2017 Giro winner – Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb, who lies third overall.
“I’m going to take the race one day at a time,” Froome maintained. “I still want to do the best I can do: if that’s 20th place, if it’s second place, or if it’s first place. I’m here to race. I’m a bike racer and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Speaking about his current physical condition, he said: "Whenever you crash the body is going to take a bit of an impact and I’m not pedalling the same as I normally do. That’s something I hope today, the rest day, will compensate for a little bit. Hopefully I start feeling a little bit more like myself in the second part of the race.
“The team has been great. It looks different to how it would normally look if we were on the front with the leader’s jersey every day, it’s going to look different when we don’t have the leader’s jersey.
“I’m taking it day-by-day at this point,” he added. “I’m hoping to feel better and obviously if I am feeling better I’m going to take the race on the best I can.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.