Perhaps Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) already knew what was coming, or perhaps his Italian is simply improving with each passing day of media commitments on this Giro d'Italia. Either way, the maglia rosa didn't need to wait for a translation of the first question of his press conference in Tortona after stage 13. The Giro reaches the Alps on Saturday with a summit finish at Oropa, and though Dumoulin has not been to reconnoitre the climb, he seems to have a fair idea of what is coming there, too.
"Tomorrow will be very hard on the last 30 minutes but the rest of the stage will be pretty easy," Dumoulin said. "The lower part of the climb is not so hard either so maybe it will only be the last 20 minutes that are full gas. That's normally what suits me very well."
On the Blockhaus last weekend, certainly, Dumoulin performed strongly on a similarly-structured stage, and on a notably tougher final climb. Oropa owes its renown more for Marco Pantani's famous comeback in 1999 than for the severity of its gradients, and on its last appearance in the corsa rosa in 2014, the ascent did little to separate the overall contenders.
Dumoulin fulfilled expectations by winning the Montefalco time trial and moving into the pink jersey, but the lead he has amassed over his overall rivals exceeded even his most optimistic hopes. The Dutchman is 2:23 clear of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), while defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) lies a further 24 seconds back.
The sense of urgency among the men chasing Dumoulin is only amplified by the knowledge that he can rely on another, 30-kilometre time trial on the final day in Milan. For that reason, Nibali's coach Paolo Slongo maintains that Dumoulin has a 'virtual' lead closer to five minutes. The onus, then is on Nibali, Quintana, Thibaut Pinot et al to attack Dumoulin early and often from here to the final mountain stage to Asiago a week on Saturday.
"I think they will attack early and from all sides," Dumoulin said when asked what he expected from his rivals on Oropa. "Normally, Movistar is the best team and Quintana is the best climber, but I know that I need to be aware of them all."
Dumoulin enjoyed an untroubled third day in the maglia rosa on the road from Reggio Emilia to Tortona on Friday afternoon, with only the gusting crosswinds giving any cause for concern. He was well-marshalled by his Sunweb squad throughout, however, and finished safely in the main peloton as Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) scorched to stage victory.
"The wind made me nervous sometimes," Dumoulin said. "For most of the day it was side wind, and in the finale, it was more side-headwind. But I was very well protected by the team so it was another good day for us."
Dumoulin led the Giro for the bones of a week last year before a saddle sore – and, no doubt, the lure of using the Tour de France to prepare for the Rio Olympics – forced him into a premature abandon. Although he had no long-term general classification ambitions on that occasion, he admitted that simply dealing each day with the practical demands of leading a Grand Tour – chiefly, the podium ceremonies, doping control and a daily press conference – was useful experience to bank for the future.
He has evinced calm during his tenure in the maglia rosa to date on this Giro, though he downplayed the significance of defending the lead during the past two days of relative détente among the overall contenders.
"Of course, they tested me the day after the time trial, but we didn't expect anything to happen in the last two days," Dumoulin said. "It's not like my confidence has suddenly improved because they didn't attack me these past two days. It wasn't a surprise that they didn't attack me on a flat day. The coming days and the coming week will be completely different."