When a rider is beaten by 46 seconds in a race that spanned 3,572 kilometres across three weeks, it is only natural to go back in the mind's eye in search of lost time. After reaching Rome in second place overall at the Giro d'Italia, however, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) evinced no regrets about his race.
Dumoulin began the final week of the Giro looking for a way to divest one British rider of the maglia rosa, but just as he had finally seen off Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) on the Colle delle Finestre on stage 19, Chris Froome (Team Sky) accelerated off the front with some 80 kilometres to go, never to be seen again. It was, in hindsight, the moment the Giro was won and lost, but having thought it over time and again, Dumoulin believes there was little he could have done.
"In hindsight, you could say that I could have chased full gas from the top of Finestre behind Froome, but at that moment I made the decision that that would cost me the Giro victory because I was not as good as Froome," Dumoulin said, who instead stayed with a five-man group that included Groupama-FDJ's Thibaut Pinot and Sebastien Reichenbach.
"I knew if I made it a duel against him, one on one, then I would eventually lose it, and lose gradually more and more time, so I made the decision to actually gamble that he would crack and that with the help of FDJ we would come closer."
Froome, of course, never once relented, gaining ground on Dumoulin and company when the road climbed, when it descended and even on a stretch of false flat into a headwind. He reached the finish on the Jafferau three minutes ahead of Richard Carapaz, while Dumoulin came in 3:23 down.
"If you look back now, maybe I should have done it differently, but at that moment, I made the only right decision and I'm happy with that decision that I made," Dumoulin said. "I didn't expect Froome to go all the way to the finish that strong. So that's not where I lost it. And anywhere else is definitely not where I lost it."
This Giro was billed beforehand as a duel between Froome and Dumoulin, and that's ultimately how it played out, even if for two and a half weeks, it appeared as though the Sky rider was competing for a minor placing. A year ago, Dumoulin saw off the challenges of Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Pinot to win the Giro, and he reckoned his second place of 2018 to be an athletic feat of similar value.
"I think my level was about the same but last year the parcours was much more made for me than this year," Dumoulin said. "I'm very happy I got second on a much more difficult parcours for me, because my weapon is still the time trial, and I couldn't really get a lot of time in that discipline because there were not a lot of time trial kilometres."
Dumoulin launched a late onslaught on Froome's lead on the climb to Cervinia on stage 20, but the Sky rider responded to each of his four accelerations. A video clip from the finish line suggested that Dumoulin had snubbed Froome in the aftermath of the stage, but the Dutchman explained on Sunday that he had simply not seen his rival as he was engaged in post-race interviews.
"I read the speculation, but I didn't see him," Dumoulin said. "I was giving interviews and he passed me, but I didn't see him. It was not on purpose and I congratulated him later, so no problem there."
Indeed, Dumoulin and Froome spent some of the later laps of Sunday's finale locked in amiable conversation, the GC battle already neutralised due following a protest from riders about the safety of the circuit. Dumoulin later downplayed the idea that he might yet be crowned the 2018 Giro winner if Froome is sanctioned for his positive test for salbutamol at last year's Vuelta a España.
"Whether he gets suspended for his Vuelta positive, that shouldn't affect the Giro," Dumoulin said. "I hope not because that's not a way I want to win."
Froome has already stated his intention, salbutamol case notwithstanding, to line out at the Tour de France. While Dumoulin has yet to confirm his own participation, it is widely anticipated that he will be on the start line on July 7. In April, the Dutchman reconnoitred the cobbled stage 9 of the Tour, but he and his Sunweb team insist that a final decision will only be taken once he has assessed his fatigue in the aftermath of this Giro.
"I take some rest first and we have to see whether I go to the Tour or not, and in which role that would be," Dumoulin said. "At the moment, I'm just happy that the Giro is finished. I would like to try to go to the Tour after this just to see how it is. Everything there would be a bonus, but maybe I'll think differently in a few days so I'm not deciding yet."