The Luxembourger proved that he's on the top of his game in the third week of a Grand Tour and put on another massive performance.
A tough and energy consuming stage awaited the bunch, but it didn't intimidate in any way Bob Jungels, the best young rider in the race, who proved once again, as if it was necessary, that he's one of the biggest talents in the professional peloton. Although stage 19 was short, it was super tough, with Colle dell'Agnello (21.3 kilometers, 6.8% average gradient) – Cima Coppi at this edition – coming on the course not long after the start, followed by a visit to France, where Risoul lied ahead of the GC contenders.
The pattern of the previous days was repeated also now, which meant that a huge escape made its way to the front, with Carlos Verona – a debutant in the Corsa Rosa – among the 27 riders to get a maximum advantage of six minutes. On the merciless ramps of Agnello, which took the riders to an altitude of 2744 meters, Michele Scarponi (Astana) attacked from the break, while Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) made a move out of the peloton, which was seriously trimmed by the Colombian's action. Five riders responded immediately, including Bob Jungels, but a second surge of Chaves let the Luxembourg champion trailing the contenders' group by less than a minute at the top of the ascent.
On the fast downhill, two dramatic moments unfolded, as Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) went to the ground. The Russian suffered a collarbone injury and was forced to retire, while the leader of the race, who crashed on a snow bank, returned to his bike and continued, but he lost two minutes due to the incident. Soon, he was joined by Bob and Carlos Verona, after the two Etixx – Quick-Step put their descending skills to work and made up the gap to the maglia rosa group.
As soon as the remnants of the break were caught by the group of Chaves and Nibali, the only two contenders to get a margin on the run-in to Risoul (12.9 kilometers, 6.9% average), the newly formed group continued to push hard in order to increase its advantage, until the Italian decided to go to the attack. Chaves countered, but didn't have the legs to follow once Nibali accelerated again inside the final five kilometers. The Italian got the win atop Risoul, followed by Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) and Chaves, who seized the pink jersey with two days to go.
In what was one of the toughest Grand Tour stages in recent years, Bob Jungels put on another valiant and powerful effort to limit the damages, at one point during the Risoul climb even attacking Kruijswijk and leaving the GC leader behind. Pacing himself on the French ascent, which was making its debut in the Giro d'Italia – Etixx – Quick-Step's rider crossed the line in 14th place, less than four minutes behind the winner, a result which saw Bob increase his advantage over the next rider in the white jersey standings.
More importantly, following his remarkable ride on the breathtaking stage 19 between Pinerolo and Risoul, the 23-year-old rose to sixth place in the general classification, a fantastic result for a rider who's just in his third Grand Tour since turning pro. At the end of the day, Bob Jungels talked about the difficulties encountered on the first climb and how he managed to avoid hitting the red zone in this penultimate mountain stage of the Corsa Rosa.
"It was hard to breathe at high altitude on Agnello, especially when the attacks came, so that's why I wanted to find my own rhythm. Over the top I couldn't follow the leaders, but did a good downhill, went really fast there, and this was important. We had backwind on that section, so I hit a maximum speed of 105 km/h. Then, luckily, Carlos Verona came from the break and helped me until Risoul, and I want to thank him for that. On the last ascent, I rode again without panicking, had a good pace and overall I'm satisfied with how things went. Hopefully, tomorrow I will be as strong and enjoy another solid ride", said Bob of stage 20, which will take the peloton between Guillestre and Sant'Anna di Vinadio (134 kilometers).
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele