Colombia cyclist Esteban Chaves is setting his sights on winning the prestigious Giro d’Italia road race just three years after sustaining serious injury following a fall at the 2013 race in Italy.
Chaves who rides for the Orica-GreenEdge team sits in second place in the general classification for the overall competition following a stage 14 win on Saturday and a solid fifth place in Sunday’s stage 15.
The Colombian now believes that he and his team are in a good position to challenge for major honors in one of the world’s most important cycle races.
“If three years ago someone had told me I’d be in the Giro d’Italia and second in the GC, I wouldn’t have believed them, so that’s why I try to enjoy every moment on the bike. But we arrived with really big objectives: that Esteban Chaves and Orica-GreenEdge are competitive for three weeks. So far we’ve been competitive for two weeks and we’ve got a week left. Now we’ll try to do the same until the end of the Giro.”
The Colombian who is renowned for his smiley demeanor acknowledged that his career could have been over following a serious collision three years ago in the Trofeo Laigueglia race in Italy when riding for the Colombia-Coldeportes team.
In the crash, he suffered brain trauma, and fractures in his right collarbone, the petrous and sphenoid bones (at the base of the skull) and his right cheekbone was damaged, his sinuses and numerous abrasions.
Another diagnosis revealed a fractured jaw, broken inner ear bones, and torn quadriceps.
It was later discovered that his auxillary nerve was torn apart and the suprascapular nerve partially so from his arm being pulled so far back.
He had a second operation in Bogota on his right arm that had lost movement that lasted nine hours for nerves to be taken from his foot to replace the damaged ones, and then faced three months of rehabilitation.
Orica-GreenEdge still signed him up at the end of 2013 on a two-year contract that has already been extended to the end of 2018.
Back from the brink
Chaves acknowledged his personal victory coming back from the brink of a potentially career ending injury by raising his arm aloft following his prestigious stage win on Saturday.
“When I had my accident I was told I couldn’t ride a bike anymore. That’s why I raised my arm,” said the Bogota-born star.
Speaking to the media on Monday during the third and final rest day of the Giro d’Italia, Chaves explained his delight that his Australia-based team gave him the opportunity to compete following his nightmare injury.
“I didn’t smile back then, perhaps for 15 months,” Chaves explained.
“I smiled again when Orica-GreenEdge gave me a chance and gave me a three-year contract. When I felt part of this team I started to smile again,” he added.
Despite Chaves’ growing reputation as the smiley Colombian, he reiterated the seriousness of his aspirations to succeed at the highest level and challenge to win the Giro d’Italia.
“I’m serious for sure. I train like a serious guy, I take life seriously too. But if you smile and enjoy life, it doesn’t mean you’re not serious,” he told reporters.
“I’m as hungry for success as any other rider in the world but we can only try to do our best, both me and the team,” he said. “If we can carry on as we have so far in the Giro, it’ll be fantastic. If we slip back, it’ll still be good because we’ll have given our all.
Chaves first confirmed his Grand Tour potential at last year’s Vuelta a España, where he won two stages, spent six days in the leader’s jersey and finished fifth overall.
Now he has set his sights on the Giro d’Italia after he and Orica-GreenEdge made the “Corsa Rosa” their main target of 2016.
Chaves will begin the 16 stage 2’12” behind Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk on Tuesday with both men setting their sights on the May 29 final podium in Turin.
Victory in Italy for Chaves in one of cycling’s most grueling competitions would put him alongside Colombian compatriot Nairo Quintana, who became the first Colombian winner of the Giro d’Italia in 2014.