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  • Writer's pictureTom Thewlis

The Joy of the Breakaway Win

Chris Froome won stage 19 of the 2018 Giro, with an epic 80-kilometre solo effort. © Tim de Waele/Getty Images

In what has been a tremendous opening to the 2021 edition of the Giro d’Italia, we’ve witnessed two particularly brilliant stage wins from a breakaway. For differing reasons, Taco van der Hoorn and Joe Dombrowski’s stage wins were equally wonderful and memorable and whet the appetite for the weeks to come. Since winning the Baby-Giro in 2012, Dombrowski is a rider who has shown so much promise across the years, but despite continuously trying, a Grand Tour stage victory had so far eluded him. He managed to get into the winning-breakaway on the road to Sestola in stage 4, and his eventual victory was a remarkable display of both resilience and astute racing tactics. Dombrowski allowed Rein Taaramae to go up the road knowing that Alessandro De Marchi was the rider to watch, and after then following the Italian’s wheel all day, he was able to pull himself across to the leaders before powering on up the vicious final gradient to claim victory. His win had been a long time coming and was the perfect reminder of the fact that hard work and determination will always pay off.

Joe Dombrowski battled on through the horrendous weather conditions to claim a memorable first Grand Tour stage win in Sestola. © Getty Images Sport

Taco van der Hoorn’s victory was another story. Getting into a breakaway this early on in a Grand Tour is, in itself, a notable achievement. In the case of Van der Hoorn’s team, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, it also provided some great publicity on the TV coverage for the sponsors and a shot at a first win of the 2021 season. Prior to this, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert were also yet to achieve a win on a Grand Tour, therefore the stakes were high and this was a great opportunity.

Before stage three, many were predicting a win for Bora-Hansgrohe and Peter Sagan. That prediction looked to be a solid one as Sagan’s team worked on the front of the peloton all day, but Van der Hoorn had other ideas. As the kilometres gradually ticked by, and Bora slowly brought the gap to the leaders down to 40 seconds, Taco decided it was all or nothing and decided to go solo. In a violent attack, the Dutchman left behind the only other rider still in the break, Simon Pellaud, and frantically pushed on hoping to cling onto a chance of victory. Taco admitted afterwards just how understandably fatigued he was in the closing stages, but he fought on to hold off the peloton and claim a memorable win. Even more memorable was him throwing in a casual F bomb on his television interview afterwards. Due to his exhaustion and genuine shock at his own brilliance, we’ll forgive him!

Taco van der Hoorn had enough energy left, to hold off the rapidly-chasing peloton and claim a memorable victory. © Getty Images Sport

It is victories like the aforementioned two that really capture the joy of following pro cycling and demonstrate the beauty of the sport. The idea of risking everything to get yourself up the road and to claim victory is an intriguing and wonderful phenomenon. Dombrowski and Van der Hoorn both encapsulated that beautifully and showed that it’s not only the GC contenders that have something to play for when it comes to getting into a breakaway and going all out for the win. In the early stages of a race such as the Giro, most teams’ aim is to get some TV coverage with a rider in a breakaway, or even into a leader’s jersey for a few days before the GC battle begins. Dombrowski is a rider that has been written off by so many a long time ago, so to see him punch the air in celebration was wonderful.

Marvelling in such success left me thinking back to what, in my opinion, is undoubtedly one of the greatest breakaway victories in cycling history, Chris Froome’s epic 80 kilometre solo ride to win stage 19 of the 2018 Giro, and with it taking the Maglia Rosa and overall victory.

Froome climbs the iconic, snow covered Finestre pass on his way to a stunning win. © Luca Bettini/Getty Images

Coming into the 2018 Giro d’Italia, Froome had arrived with one set objective; of becoming the seventh rider in history to win all three Grand Tours. However, unfortunately for Froome, as the race reached its closing stages the outcome he had hoped and trained for was rapidly slipping away from his grasp. What was to follow on Stage 19 was nothing other than breathtaking.

Entering the stage, Froome was over three minutes down from the Maglia Rosa, Simon Yates, and a long way back from Tom Dumoulin who held second place. It was a mountainous route containing the legendary Colle Delle Finestre, and one which would decide the overall winner one way or the other. It was the day that Froome decided it was now or never, and what was to come turned the race dramatically on its head. On the Finestre, Team Sky got onto the front of the peloton and each rider worked to set a tremendous pace that blew the race up and quickly put Simon Yates under huge pressure. At that point, Chris Froome launched his attack, disappearing up the gravel roads of the climb and away from Dumoulin and Yates into the distance.

With 80 kilometres left ahead of him it seemed like a crazy move to make, but Froome was first up the 45 hairpin bends of the Finestre, the Cima Coppi of that year’s Giro, and he was willing to risk everything to do what many thought was impossible. Like Froome said afterwards, that’s what bike racing is all about, and he displayed the hallmarks of a true champion that day. Froome went on to pull it off and ended up winning the stage by over three minutes and took the Maglia Rosa off Yates’ shoulders in the process. After one of the greatest comebacks the Giro d’Italia and cycling has ever seen, Froome went on to win the Giro overall. Not since the days of the greats such as Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx had we witnessed such a breakaway, and Froome’s win and performance is unrivalled in modern professional cycling.

Not since the days of Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx had cycling seen such a stunning win. © Bettini Photo

When a rider is in the position Froome was in that day, there is nobody to hide behind or ride in the slipstream of and therefore you need to take on additional energy to maintain your advantage. All things considered, the figures around this suggest a breakaway of that style should never succeed. The peloton are always expected to bring them back, a bigger group of riders conserving energy and working together to reduce a lead should always win. Therefore it just simply shouldn’t equate to victory. That is why Froome’s legendary win was so majestic in the style with which it was executed.

After his comeback from horrific recent injury, many have been quick to write off Chris Froome. Those that are doing so clearly don’t know their history when it comes to cycling. I urge anyone that thinks Froome won’t win another Tour de France title to go back and watch that infamous 2018 stage. A rider of that stature, willing to go it alone as he did that day, should never be written off.

What many believe to be the impossible is always achievable, provided you have the right mind set, application and focus. Winning from a breakaway in the fashion of Taco van der Hoorn, Joe Dombrowski and Chris Froome is never supposed to happen, which is why it makes it all that bit more magical when it does.

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