Montevergine di Mercogliano (Italy) (AFP) – Race favourite Chris Froome of Sky once again slipped on the eighth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday as fellow Briton Simon Yates kept the overall leader’s pink jersey.
The Sky rider’s rear wheel lost grip on a hairpin turn following a storm before the final climb 5.5km from the finish line to further dent the confidence of 32-year-old in a race he hasn’t competed in since 2010.
Froome got back on the saddle to finish in the leading group with Movistar’s Richard Carapaz crossing the line alone to become the first Ecuadorian stage winner of the race.
It was the second stumble by Froome who also fell on the morning of the first stage in Jerusalem — again on his right side — before losing time in a nerve-wracking arrival at Caltagirone on the fourth stage and suffering on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna on the sixth stage.
To see him grimace as he crossed the line at the monastery of Montevergine di Mercogliano near Naples in pouring rain, it looked as if the seed of doubt had crept into the head of four-time Tour de France winner.
Despite his mishaps, however, Froome remains within touching distance of Yates as he sits ninth 1min 10sec behind the Mitchelton rider.
By contrast Yates was the wearer of the pink jersey having controlled the situation during the long climb towards Montevergine, negotiating winding roads in sombre conditions through forests of beech and chestnut.
Carapaz — competing in his first Grand Tour race — made a well-timed break 1.4km from the line after over five hours of racing in the 209km run up through southern Italy from Praia a Mare.
The 24-year-old held on despite the tricky conditions, finishing seven seconds ahead of a large chasing pack containing all favourites.
“I’m very happy and emotional. It’s my first Grand Tour victory,” said Carapaz, who is wearing the white jersey for the best young rider.
“I had good legs from the bottom of the climb. I had to try from far out because I had little chance of winning a sprint. I chose the right moment from 2km to go.
“It’s still a long way to Rome and I’m yet to understand what else I can achieve but this is already beautiful.”
Italy’s Davide Formolo (Bora) finished second followed by France’s Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who crossed in third to move up in the overall standings to fourth, 41sec behind Yates.
“I wanted to ride at the front because of the rain in the final,” said Yates.
“I would have liked to take some bonus seconds but I got a little boxed in. However, it’s still a good day for us, I think. It was a slippery but it was okay.
Yates said he was feeling confident when asked if he could go all the way in this year’s race.
“I think so,” said the 25-year-old from Manchester. “I feel really good and I just need some good luck. I have great teammates to help me do this so I don’t see why not.”
“Tomorrow will be a bit more difficult,” added Yates of Sunday’s ninth stage which finishes at 2,135 metres altitude at Gran Sasso d’Italia with a gruelling 26.5km climb at Campo Imperatore, where Benito Mussolini was imprisoned in 1943.
The overall standings remained unchanged with defending champions Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands remains second overall 16sec behind Yates with Colombian Esteban Chaves third 26sec off the pace.