NICOLOSI – Colombian Esteban Chaves, of the Mitchelton team, won a thrilling sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia ahead of teammate Simon Yates on Thursday which saw Britain's Chris Froome lose more time to his pink jersey rivals.
Chaves, taking his second Giro stage win, finished just ahead of Britain's Yates, whose late surge to join the 28-year-old Colombian earned him the overall leader's pink jersey.
FDJ's Thibaut Pinot finished third, 26 seconds behind the leading pair, after a 164km ride between Caltanissetta and the summit finish at Etna, with Froome finishing in the same time as the Frenchman.
There was suspense all the way as both Mitchelton riders approached the finish line, but in the end Yates sat up to allow Chaves to savour the stage victory.
“Chaves had been out on the road all day, so he deserved the stage win,” said Yates, who takes the pink jersey from Australian Rohan Dennis of BMC.
Chaves was part of a 28-rider escape group, which fell apart at the foot of Sicily's Mount Etna, the highest volcano in Europe.
After a series of attacks and counter-attacks on the way up to Etna, the Colombian climbing specialist pulled away from his rivals with 5.5 km to race.
With Chaves confidently ahead on his own, Yates bided his time amid a series of further skirmishes before pulling away in commanding fashion to join the Colombian in the final kilometre.
“It's unbelievable. I needed this for my comeback to the Giro after one year of absence,” said Chaves, who pulled on the King of the Mountains blue jersey.
“It was a really hard stage here at the end. I firstly thank Jack Haig for pulling so much in the breakaway. This 1-2 with Yates is like a dream.”
Yates added: “I felt really good, I looked across the road and everyone was looking at each other. I took a chance.
“The start was crazy. I didn't really have to do anything, I could sit in the wheels and save energy.”
Froome looks at 'bigger picture'
Four-time Tour de France winner Froome finished tenth among the first chasing group and alongside defending champion Tom Dumoulin. Dutch rider Dumoulin is now second overall at 16sec behind Yates.
Froome - bidding for a third consecutive Grand Tour win - dropped 15 seconds and is now 1min 10sec behind Yates.
“It was a tough day and a big test for all the GC (General Classification) guys to see where everyone was at,” said the 32-year-old Froome.
“I am happy to have made it through the stage without any major issues and to have been up there with the main GC guys bar Chaves and Yates - who rode an amazing race today.”
“I feel as if I'm getting better and better each day after Israel now, with the bigger picture in mind of getting to the third week as strong as possible and obviously this is the first main objective of the season for me and things are still on track.”
“There’s still a lot of work ahead of us, but there’s still a lot of racing to come.”
“The day was really hard and the Sicily block has been tough,” said Elissonde. “For the team it's great that (Froome) is riding well. When I was in his wheel, at 6 or 7 km to go, he was still looking good. It bodes well. It's the first really positive day of the Giro for us.”
From Friday, after the opening two stages in Isreal were followed by three days in Sicily, the Giro continues on the Italian mainland with the 159km seventh stage between Pizzo and Praia a Mare in Calabria.