Chris Froome can still win the Giro d’Italia despite being three minutes off the pace going into the final week, says Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford.
The British four-time Tour de France winner had a difficult first two weeks but won a first Giro stage on Saturday.
“Can he still do it? Absolutely he can,” Brailsford told BBC Radio 5 live.
“Vincenzo Nibali was further back in the general classification in 2016 and won. The key guys rise to the top due to an incredible ability to recover.”
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Froome, 32, fell heavily in preparation for the three-week event and crashed again during stage eight.
He is three minutes and 10 seconds behind Mitchelton-Scott rider Yates with seven stages remaining – they include three which are mountainous, where Froome will be looking to eat up the time, and a time trial.
Brailsford said critics were too quick to dismiss his lead rider’s chances after the early setbacks.
“When the [first] crash happened that put us on the back foot,” added the former British Cycling chief.
“Instead of trying to build up during the first week of the Giro, Chris spent it trying to recover from the crash. However, in the last couple of days he’s started to feel better. And the talk last night [Friday] and this morning was about taking it on.
“Did I see it coming? It wasn’t impossible. Was it probable? We weren’t sure.
“In this day and age, people are quick to write others off. I’ve been surprised by that. Chris can’t do what he’s done without having the X-factor which all great champions have.”