VERONA (AFP) - Richard Carapaz has emerged from the shadows of cycling's big guns after winning the Giro d'Italia on Sunday (June 2), riding into Verona's ancient Roman Arena to seal his first Grand Tour victory in the final-day time trial.
The Movistar rider's 36th-place finish in Sunday's final stage, won by American Chad Haga, was enough for the 26-year-old to become the first Ecuadorian to win one of the sport's three major tours.
Carapaz dominated the second half of this year's race, particularly in the mountains, claiming the coveted pink jersey in just his third full season as a professional rider after starting the race as a support rider for teammate Mikel Landa.
"This is the biggest moment of my sporting life," said the rider from Playa Alta, high in the mountains of northern Ecuador near the border with Colombia.
"In this final time trial I just suffered from start to finish until I reached the arena of Verona. It's fabulous to win the Giro d'Italia."
Carapaz had remained under the radar for much of the race, particularly after having lost time with mechanical problems on Stage 3, and second-placed Vincenzo Nibali of Italy conceded it had been a mistake to underestimate the Ecuadorian given his fourth-placed finish last year.
"Without a doubt we made the mistake of giving him too much space," conceded two-time former winner Nibali, who finished second overall at 1min 5sec.
The Sicilian, nicknamed the 'Shark', had focused too much on Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who finished third overall, after the Team Jumbo-Visma rider's strong start to the season and early success on the Giro.
"Second at the Giro is still a good result, especially thinking that six months ago, I was down with a big back pain after the crash at the Tour de France," said Nibali. "To be back fighting for the overall victory in a Grand Tour is something positive."
Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin, winner in 2017, dropped out of the race after a fall in the first week, with defending champion Chris Froome of Britain not competing.
Carapaz had surged ahead of Landa as the race moved into the mountains. He won two stages - the fourth at Frascati and 14th at Courmayeur - pulling ahead on the foot of Mont Blanc in the Alps and taking the pink jersey eight days from the finish.
He showed no signs of weakness in a race made difficult by the rainy days, becoming just the second South American to win the Giro after Colombian Nairo Quintana in 2014.
"The 30 seconds I gained on Stage 15 were fundamental," he said. "I profited from Nibali and Roglic watching each other. That's where the Giro was decided. For me, it's only the beginning I think. We always dream for more."
Roglic, winner of the first two stages, moved back to third overall for his first podium finish on a Grand Tour, at the expense of Landa who dropped to fourth.
The Slovenian finished 10th in the time trial just behind Nibali.
The 30-year-old Haga won the stage ahead of Belgian duo Victor Campenaerts and Thomas De Gendt, both riding for Lotto.
"Everything is just jumbled up in my head right now," said the American. "It's been a rollercoaster for sure, the race started really well and then went bad for a while."
There was more disappointment for Britain's Simon Yates, who came into the race warning his rivals that he was "the No. 1 favourite". The Mitchelton-Scott rider had dominated most of last year's race before Froome snatched victory, and this year finished eighth, nearly eight minutes behind Carapaz.
"It was a very disappointing Giro for me personally, although disappointing isn't the right word, heartbreaking is more accurate," said Vuelta champion Yates.
"I put a lot of effort into this, a lot of time and it has just not come together the way I was expecting.
"That's OK, there's always another Giro, another year and I will come back at some point and try again. You can always learn and we will do that going forward."