Tom Dumoulin needed some time to himself to unwind after stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia. It was that kind of a day, and that kind of a finale. And so, after speaking to reporters on the finish line in Eilat, Dumoulin opted to warm down by soft-pedalling alone through the quiet streets in the hotel quarter of the Red Sea resort.
"Tom, it's over there!" a Sunweb soigneur called out in surprise as Dumoulin glided past. "I know," he responded as he set out for another solo lap around the houses. For a defending Giro champion, such moments of solitude are rare over the three weeks of the corsa rosa.
Once he reaches Italy on Monday, after all, Dumoulin knows he will scarcely be able to budge beyond the finish line without youthful bands of tifosi cheerfully attempting to sequester the bottles from his cages. The low density of the crowds in Eilat offered a chance to spin his legs on the road rather than on the rollers.
"It was the most stressful sprint stage I've ever done," said Dumoulin, who remains second overall, a second behind Rohan Dennis (BMC), after finishing safely in the main peloton. "I looked at the weather beforehand and I saw there was a tailwind in the finale and slightly downhill, so we were riding at 70 kph like wild bulls coming into the town."
The third and final instalment of the Giro's Israeli Grande Partenza brought the peloton on a seeming interminable trek from Be’er Sheva through the haunting Negev desert to Eilat. At some 229 kilometres in length, it was the second longest stage of the entire Giro, and while the forecast of extreme temperatures of 40 degrees never quite materialised, the tailwind and slightly downhill run to the finish made for a most trying afternoon.
"With all the roundabouts and corners, it was very dangerous, but you knew you had to be up there to avoid losing time," Dumoulin said. "I feel tired now like I would normally feel after a mountain stage, not a sprint stage."
Dumoulin will at least be able enjoy a rest day of sorts on Monday, as the race caravan travels from Israel to Sicily, though a 6 a.m. wake-up call and the long flight to Catania will rather diminish its recuperative effects.
No matter, the Dutchman leaves Israel as the best-placed of the general classification contenders, thanks to his victory in Friday's opening time trial in Jerusalem, and his passing of the pink jersey to Dennis on Saturday means that his Sunweb team bears no responsibility to control the race.
The road to Rome is still long, but as the sun dipped over the Gulf of Aqaba and Dumoulin gathered his thoughts on Sunday evening, he had ample reason to be pleased with the journey so far.
Froome's Giro d'Italia begins with a setback
Chris Froome's Giro began with a setback when he crashed ahead of the opening time trial in Jerusalem and then conceded 37 seconds in the event itself. Then again, Chris Froome's Giro might not have begun at all, considering his still unresolved salbutamol case, ongoing since his positive test for the substance during last year’s Vuelta a España.
Froome reported no ill effects from his crash ahead of stage 2, where he finished in the main peloton, and he again came home in the same time as stage winner Elia Viviani (Quick-Step) in Eilat on Sunday. The Briton lies 18th overall as the Giro leaves for Sicily, 38 seconds behind Dennis, and 37 down on Dumoulin.
Unlike Dumoulin, Froome made directly for his team hotel after the stage, though Team Sky soon released his reaction the day's action for public consumption. His thinking seemed to be largely in line with that of Dumoulin.
"It was quite a relaxed start but it wound up to be quite a stressful final. Obviously with the tailwind it was really high speed and quite dangerous racing," Froome said.
"Everyone wanted to fight for the front in the final. We all knew that the roundabouts and the U-turn ahead of the final kilometre would be key moments, and potentially where splits would happen, so we all wanted to be on the right side of those."
The hoary old cliché says that the Giro cannot be won in any one day, but it can be lost at any point along the line. After the opening time trial in Jerusalem created some notable separation among the podium favourites, all of the fancied names remained within touching distance of one another on the first two road stages, with Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) well positioned after their fine opening time trials.
Miguel Angel Lopez (45th at 57 seconds) and Fabio Aru (34th at 51 seconds) will reach Italy as the worst-placed of the general classification contenders, though both riders will expect to begin rising in the standings once the road starts to climb at Mount Etna on stage 6.
"It was windy all day, but the team was fantastic in keeping me up near the front because it wasn't an easy stage at all," Aru said at the finish in Eilat. "Tomorrow we’ll travel and rest a bit, and then we'll look forward to the Sicilian stages. It all went pretty well. The important thing was to stay in front and not take any risks."
Easier said than done, but all in a day's work.