Chris Froome defied his self-doubts to make history by winning the 2018 Giro d’Italia – becoming the first rider to win all three Grand Tours in a row since the Vuelta a Espana was moved to its current position in the calendar.
Froome successfully defended the lead he built up in the Alps – courtesy of his stunning 80km solo attack on stage 19 – to win the Giro for the first time and become only the seventh rider to triumph in all three Grand Tours in a career.
He is only the third rider, after Eddy Merckx (1972-73) and Bernard Hinault (1982-83) to win all three consecutively, with their triumphs having come when the Vuelta a Espana was the season’s first Grand Tour.
And the 33-year-old Team Sky rider admitted the achievement was still sinking in after he claimed the sixth Grand Tour victory of his career in total.
“I've always been a little bit afraid of coming here and really targeting the Giro, just because of the demands of the race,” he said.
“It's so different to any other race that exists. To be here in this position now and to have won the race - I can't quite believe it myself.
“I’m lost for words, it’s such an emotional feeling to be here in the pink jersey after a rollercoaster race for me.
“Just taking a step back and putting everything into perspective, just thinking about winning three Grand Tours consecutively – the Tour, the Vuelta and the Giro – it’s just an amazing feeling.
“It was great to be able to soak up the atmosphere here in Rome. The monuments, the crowds – it was a great atmosphere out on the road.”
After crashing during a recon ride for the stage one time trial in Jerusalem, Froome – whose presence at the race was criticised by some, with the investigation into the adverse analytical finding he returned in an doping test during the Vuelta still hanging over him – was more than three minutes down at the halfway point in the race.
With fellow Brit Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) leading the way, scooping three stage wins in the maglia rosa in the process, Froome was outside the top ten overall until his remarkable comeback started with a stage win on Monte Zoncolan.
Victory on the iconic climb, six seconds ahead of Yates, saw him climb to fifth though Yates’ stage win at Sappada the following day left Froome 4’52” behind his compatriot and 2’41” down on second-place defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb).
Froome climbed to fourth overall after his fifth-place finish in the stage 16 time trial, but it was the remarkable 19th stage which turned the race on its head.
With Yates ultimately paying for his earlier efforts, and slipping out of GC contention, Froome launched a solo attack on the Colle delle Finestre and could not be brought back – riding alone at the head of the race for 80km.
He won the stage by three minutes over second-placed Richard Carapaz (Movistar) and finished it in the maglia rosa, 40 seconds clear of Dumoulin.
After resisting Dumoulin’s attacks on the final mountain stage to Cervinia the following day, even gaining six seconds in the process, Froome then comfortably defended his overall lead on the processional final stage in Rome – with safety issues meaning GC times were neutralised after three laps anyway.
Froome is the first Brit to win the Giro d’Italia, finishing 46 seconds clear of Dumoulin, while Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez finished third at 4’57”.
And Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford hailed Froome’s victory as his greatest achievement yet.
“I think it’s probably the best performance of his career,” he told Eurosport. “We all know that those exceptional adventures in sport – they don’t always come off.
“There are very few people who put it all on the line and try something like that, and rarely does it come off, but when it does it’s epic. I think that’s what we saw here.
“Ultimately he and the team had the confidence. He’d been to the final week before, and these races it’s not the first week or the second week – it’s the last couple of days and who can really absorb that fatigue.
“That’s why there are a couple of riders who are a step above the rest.”