MONTE ZONCOLAN (AFP) - Race favourite Chris Froome warned "it's not over yet" as he powered back following his early struggles in the Giro d'Italia by winning the prestigious 14th stage to the summit of the imposing Monte Zoncolan on Saturday (May 19).
The four-time Tour de France winner won the stage following a thrilling duel with fellow Briton Simon Yates of Mitchelton who finished second to extend his overall lead on his key rivals.
Pink jersey wearer Yates crossed the line six seconds behind Froome after the gruelling final 10km climb with a 11.9 per cent gradient, reputedly one of the toughest in Europe.
It was the second time that two British riders have achieved a Giro 1-2 finish after Alex Dowsett and Bradley Wiggins in 2013.
Italy's Domenico Pozzovivo finished in third place, 23sec behind the Froome.
"It's a really special feeling to win at the top of this climb, especially after the hard start I've had," said Froome.
The team Sky rider was no longer among the candidates for the podium after his two falls in the first week and his difficulties in summit finishes.
"It's such a monumental climb in this Giro d'Italia," continued Froome.
"I did the recon and I believed that with 4km to go was the right place to attack. Right to the line, Simon Yates was just behind me. It's a relief to win here." The two British riders had a thrilling duel until the final bend on Zoncolan.
Yates had painstakingly closed the gap which had peaked at 15 seconds after Froome started 4.2 kilometres from the line.
"I tried to go for the stage. I did my best to catch Chris," said Yates.
"I just didn't have enough to get it. But as far as the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) is concerned, it's all good to be second here." At 1,730 metres altitude Yates gained time on all his leading rivals.
Defending champion Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands crossed in fifth but trails Yates by 1 min 24 sec in the overall standings.
It was the first stage win on the Giro for 32-year-old Froome, but he remains 3min 10sec behind Yates in the overall standings.
"This is going to give me a confidence boost for the final part of the Giro," said Froome, who was helped by Dutch teammate Wout Poels who as impressive in the first half of the climb.
Froome is bidding to become the first rider to win three Grand Tours in a row since Frenchman Bernard Hinault in 1982/83.
"It's not over yet," he added.
And Sky team director Nicolas Portal warned: "It was a big show and chapeau to him. Today was a day to show how the team is and how he is.
"Anything can happen in this Giro. The most important thing is that he is back and that he can climb with the best." Sunday's 15th stage crosses the Dolomites over a 176km route includes four climbs to reach Sappada Station. Monday will be the final rest day on the Giro which finishes in Rome on May 27.