(Reuters) - Chris Froome proved to be king of the mountain as the British rider raced back into the reckoning by winning Stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday, finishing the brutal climb up Monte Zoncolan ahead of race leader Simon Yates.
Yates stretched his overall lead over defending champion Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands to one minute 24 seconds, with Froome’s first-ever stage win at the Italian road race rocketing him up to fifth place from 12th in the general classification.
The four-times Tour de France champion, whose first two weeks in Italy were blighted by injury, still trails Yates by three minutes 10 seconds.
Froome finished the 186km stage with a lead of six seconds as the peloton disintegrated on what is widely regarded to be one of the most punishing climbs in European cycling.
Zoncolan averages an 11.9 percent gradient over 10km, rising to 22 percent at its steepest point.
“It is a really special feeling winning on top of that climb,” Froome said. “Winning on such a monumental climb for the race and in general is such a good feeling after a such a tough start to this race for me.”
Froome and his Team Sky team mate Wout Poels had their noses in front heading into the final 5km, with Yates in third and world time-trial champion Dumoulin neck-and-neck with Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, but behind Bahrain–Merida’s Domenico Pozzovivo.
Froome attacked with just over 4km remaining and, with 3km to go, Yates followed suit and began reeling in the leader.
“I felt like 4km was the moment when the race was on the limit and was the moment to go,” Froome said. “The team had done a great job pulling me to that point, but right to the line Simon was right on me.
“I didn’t know if he was going to catch me, so it was such a relief to get into that final 100m.”
Froome’s break was timed to perfection and despite his frantic final effort, Yates fell just short.
Reporting by Simon Jennings, editing by Ed Osmond