Giro d'Italia GC analysis: Dumoulin lays down marker, Froome concedes ground

How the GC contenders fared on stage 1

Reading too much into the runes of the short opening time trial of a Grand Tour can sometimes be a fool's errand. There are, after all, still 3,512 kilometres of racing left in this Giro d'Italia, and one explosive 13-minute effort is hardly a firm indicator of performance in the marathon slog through the Alps in the final week.

And yet, the hilly nature of the Jerusalem parcours meant that it had the feel of a rather weightier test than a traditional, city-centre prologue, and the time gaps between the favourites for final overall victory are certainly notable after just 9.7 kilometres of racing.

As well as striking an obvious psychological blow by claiming the first maglia rosa of this Giro, defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) has something even more tangible to show from the first instalment of the GC battle – a 37-second head start over Chris Froome (Team Sky). He also gained 33 seconds over Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), and almost a minute on Fabio Aru (UAE-Team Emirates) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).

Dumoulin insisted afterwards that he was more pleased with the stage win and the maglia rosa than he was with the time gained on his rivals, but while he might have expected beforehand to pick up that much ground on Pinot, Aru and Lopez, banking such an early lead on Froome must surely have come as a surprise.

After holding the maglia rosa for extended spells in 2016 and 2017, Dumoulin is familiar with the demands of the garment, during and after the stage. One can expect the Dutchman to look to farm out the responsibility at the earliest opportunity, perhaps on the Giro's return to Italy on stage 4, where the leg to Caltagirone seems well-suited to an early break.

"We won't defend the jersey with everything we have," Dumoulin admitted. "But I'm in a good situation now, and I don't want to lose time to the other GC riders."

In short, regardless of whether the maglia rosa is still on his back, Dumoulin will expect to reach the foot of Mount Etna on stage 6 as the Giro's padrone. Nothing is decided with so much distance still to run, but it's a notable calling card all the same.

Froome

Froome's protracted salbutamol case dominated headlines in the build-up to this Giro, and the Briton remained in the spotlight on Friday, first by crashing during his reconnaissance, and then by losing such a large quantity of time to Dumoulin. But before anybody starts resurrecting the spectre of Sky's previous GC disasters in the Giro, it’s worth remembering that Froome has been here before in a Grand Tour and fought back.

In the opening 13km time trial of the 2015 Tour de France, Froome shipped a substantial 50 seconds to stage winner Rohan Dennis, as well as 42 seconds to Dumoulin, seven seconds to Vincenzo Nibali, four seconds to Simon Yates and nine seconds to Pinot.

Just a day later, however, Froome pegged back much of that deficit in the crosswinds in Zeeland, and he was already in the yellow jersey after stage 3 to the Mur de Huy. Froome's subdued performance was explained at least in part by the emphasis he had placed on climbing ahead of a Tour short on time trial miles. Come the Pyrenees, when he destroyed the Tour field on the summit finish in La Pierre-Saint-Martin, that choice seemed to be amply justified.

Given Froome's pre-stage crash, as well as his intention of maintaining form all the way through the summer into the Tour de France – provided he is cleared to race – perhaps such a low-key start to this Giro was not so surprising, after all.

It was perhaps more surprising that Sky's collective performance was so low-key compared to the corresponding stage of the 2017 Tour de France, where their riders dominated the top positions in the opening time trial in Dusseldorf. This time around, not a single Sky rider made it into the top 20 in Jerusalem. Froome, in 21st, was still the squad's best performer, raising questions over Sky's relative collective strength.

"It could be better, but it could be worse," said Sky directeur sportif Nicolas Portal afterwards. "Obviously, for the time trial, it's not ideal mentally to manage [the crash] but he's a tough guy, he knows what can happen. So, boom, we're back in the business, and we carry on."

The other question, of course, is how much the salbutamol case has affected Froome's preparation, but Portal was adamant that the Briton was capable of compartmentalising the whole issue. "You've been in the press conferences, and there've been a lot of questions, more than just on the cycling side. But it is what it is, he's a hard man and his mentality is unbelievable. We're here to race. We don't even think about it, we just go full gas."

It remains to be seen if Froome can fare any better against Dumoulin in the 34.2km time trial in Rovereto on stage 16, though one senses the Dutchman's rivals might already be mentally factoring in further, future losses to the defending champion.

"It's never nice to lose time, but the Giro is very long, there are a lot of mountains, and Chris is not the only one who needs to pull back some time on Tom Dumoulin," Portal said. "He knows he has to beat Tom in the mountains."

Pozzovivo and Yates impress

It would be reductive to portray this Giro simply as a duel between Dumoulin and Froome, of course, and Friday's time trial flagged the fine condition of some of the other contenders. Most notably, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who lost just 20 seconds, and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), who limited his losses to 27 seconds, having said beforehand that he would have settled to finish within 40 seconds of the best time.

Thibaut Pinot's disappointment at losing quite so much time (33 seconds) to Dumoulin will be tempered by gaining a little ground on Froome, while after crashing during his recon, Miguel Angel Lopez, who lost 56 seconds, will be glad to have made it around the course without incident. 

Michael Woods (EF-Drapac) was expected to lose ground, though 1:02 is perhaps more than he bargained for here. There was a greater disappointment for Fabio Aru, who lost 50 seconds, though the Italian champion looked to strike an upbeat note after crossing the line.

"I lost time compared to my rivals, but that was expected considering my characteristics as a rider," Aru said. "We've still got 20 hard days of racing ahead of us, so it’s not a problem."

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