Astana's Vincenzo Nibali added to his legend with a stage victory in Risoul, France today as the Giro d'Italia was turned on its head, when overnight leader Steven Kruijswijk of LottoNL-Jumbo did exactly that atop the Colle dell'Agnello, setting off a chain of events that snatched the maglia rosa from his back. Kruijswijk lost small amounts of time on the descent of the Agnello after his fall, then larger amounts in the valley below, and finally all of his lead and then some on the day's final climb, where Esteban Chaves of Orica-GreenEdge, who ignited the day's action, took over the race lead. The Colombian Chaves was the story on the day's biggest climb, befitting his high-altitude heritage, and his move into the top spot was earned across the roads of France today. But the biggest story was the comeback of Nibali, a pre-race favorite and former Giro winner, who had lacked the form throughout the race but found his climbing legs at last today. The Sicilian's dramatic resurrection put him into second place overall, only 44 seconds behind Chaves, with Kruijswijk hanging on to third place overall.
The drama began on the climb to the Colle dell'Agnello, which saw Chaves and his team take matters into their hands with a forceful acceleration early on that isolated Kruijswijk -- who had been surrounded by teammates -- and put Nibali, Majka and several others on the defensive. Kruijswijk remained with Chaves without difficulty and Nibali caught back on, while Movistar's Alejandro Valverde fell off the pace closer to the top, and the first two riders on GC (plus Nibali) summited together. Then the Giro went head-over-heels as Kruijswijk overshot a corner and clipped a snowbank, flipping onto his back. He lost contact with Chaves, then got passed by Valverde when at last, further down the climb, he was able to make contact with his team car and receive a spare bike. By the time he reached the valley, Kruijswijk had conceded a minute to Chaves and Nibali, slightly less to Valverde, and found some company in Bob Jungels and his Etixx-Quick Step teammate Carlos Verona. Still, the Chaves/Nibali group caught lots of escapees and tore across the valley, opening up the gap to Kruijswijk to some 2.30, with the Maglia Rosa having to do much of his own chasing.
Once they reached the climb to Risoul, Chaves and Nibali accelerated with only Mikel Nieve from Team Sky along for the ride, as Valverde maintained a minute's deficit. Kruijswijk was unable to ride with Jungels and seemed to be losing it all. By 10km to go the Nibali/Chaves group were first on the road, and three km later Kruijswijk's gap was over three minutes.
On the final climb, Nibali showed his resumption of form by attacking Chaves a few times before succeeding, opening a small gap over the young Colombian and climbing alone on the front of the stage. By this time Valverde was estimated to have conceded more than 1.30, and Kruijswijk closer to four minutes, indicating that the standings would be very different from the previous edition after today. Nibali grew wings and soared up to the line, extending his gap to Chaves all the way out to fifty seconds. The stage victory cut his gap to the Colombian by more than half and left him bereft, sobbing into a towel, as emotional as he's ever been. This is saying something for a rider who has won all three grand tours, with a lifetime of dramatic, gutty, emotional cycling written to his name. If he can't duplicate the effort tomorrow, over an even tougher stage, then he'll have little chance to bag another title from Chaves, but nothing is assured now, including even Kruijswijk's demise. The Dutchman needs only 1.05 and change to vault back into pink. Even Valverde, who dropped close to three minutes, is still a mere 1.48 behind, and there is far more than that available tomorrow (not that Valverde looks at all capable of helping himself to it).
One final note, Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha crashed heavily on the descent of the Agnello, lying prone by a mountain stream with his bike broken to bits around him, a terrifying scene. But he eventually sat up and was whisked away to a hospital with nothing more than a broken collarbone. His loss of a high position in the Giro is nothing compared to what one can lose in such a crash, and in the end Zakarin can consider himself fortunate.