George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) believes his comment that Chris Froome (Team Sky) ‘did a Landis’ as he won stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia with a long solo attack has been taken out of context, with the Kiwi rider insisting he is not batting for people on social media who are keen to believe and promote conspiracy theories about Froome’s performance.
Bennett spoke to a LottoNL-Jumbo video crew and Cyclingnews immediately after descending from the finish of stage 19 to the team bus parking in Bardonecchia. He finished more than eight minutes down on Froome, but such was the damage caused by the stage over the Colle delle Finestre that he moved up to ninth overall. He finished 14th on stage 20 to Cervinia and so climbed up to eighth after Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) cracked and lost 45 minutes.
Bennett didn’t immediately know the result of stage 19 on Friday and struggled to believe that Froome had managed to gain enough time to take the pink jersey.
“Did Froome stay away? No way!” Bennett said in astonishment on the video shot by his team.
As the gruppetto rolled across the finish line in Cervinia on Saturday afternoon, many faces were creased into broad smiles of relief that the worst of their labours on this Giro d’Italia had finally come to an end. The most elite passenger aboard this particular bus, however, wore an expression of a very different hue. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) was masked in suffering as he leant over his handlebars, his chest heaving amid incessant coughs.
After descending the mountain, Pinot was reportedly taken to hospital to be treated for exhaustion, dehydration and respiratory problems. It remains to be seen whether he will be in any state to complete his Giro in Rome on Sunday afternoon.
Groupama-FDJ director Martial Gayant later went on French TV Sport to say that Pinot would not take the start of the final stage in Rome, choosing to abandon the race after spending the evening under medical observation at hospital in Aosta. The team said in an earlier Twitter update that the rider was suffering from dehydration and fever.
Pinot had begun the Giro’s penultimate stage in third place overall, buoyed by a gritty display on the tappone to Bardonecchia the previous afternoon. At the start in Susa, he had spoken optimistically of retaining a podium place in the face of a likely offensive from Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
Come the day’s penultimate climb, the Col de Saint-Pantaléon, the tone of his entire race had changed. As Astana set the tempo at the head of the peloton, Pinot was floundering off the rear. His teammates Steve Morabito, Sebastien Reichenbach and Jeremy Roy dropped back to come to the aid of their leader.
Gels were passed up from the team car, as Pinot’s pedalling slowed almost to a halt. After straining every sinew to keep pace with the best through the final week, he had nothing left. It was already clear that there was no way back.
On Sunday afternoon, Chris Froome (Team Sky) will pedal through the streets of Rome in the maglia rosa and aboard a pink bike. He will accept the congratulations of his teammates as he freewheels across the finish line on the Via dei Fori Imperiali. In the shadow of the Coliseum and amid a shower of pink confetti, he will be presented with the Trofeo Senza Fine.
In short, Froome will be acclaimed with the normal pomp and ceremony as the winner of the 2018 Giro d’Italia, but, by any metric, this cannot be described as a normal edition of the Giro d’Italia. The still unresolved case of Froome’s positive test for salbutamol at last year’s Vuelta a España has seen to that.
On the eve of the Grande Partenza in Jerusalem, race director Mauro Vegni claimed that the UCI had assured him that Froome’s final result would stand regardless of the outcome of the salbutamol case. That same evening, the UCI issued a statement to refute that claim, and president David Lappartient reiterated that stance when he visited the Giro this week.
In Rome on Sunday, the 2018 Giro winner’s name will be writ in water, not set in stone.
After securing final overall victory by repelling Tom Dumoulin’s flurry of attacks on the road to Cervinia on Saturday afternoon, Froome was asked about his salbutamol case. His comments, as they have been since news of the matter broke in December, were decidedly low on detail.
“That’s obviously something we’re dealing with. I have a clear conscience,” Froome said. “As I said, when the time is right, all the information will be shared with everyone and I’m sure people will see it from my point of view.”