A stage win, a pink jersey and a 37-second buffer over Chris Froome. The opening day of the Giro d'Italia could hardly have gone smoother for Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), who mastered a technical time trial course to begin his title defence in resounding fashion in Jerusalem.
It was hardly a surprise for the world time trial champion to claim the stage honours, pipping an impressive Rohan Dennis (BMC) by two seconds, but the early advantage he holds over Froome was rather more notable.
After taking a seat in the post-race press conference in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, however, Dumoulin dismissed the idea that the stage win was almost a bonus in light of the head start he now has on his rivals for final overall victory.
"The victory was more important: I'll show you what I'm wearing now," Dumoulin said, unzipping his maglia rosa to reveal the rainbow bands underneath. "I'm now wearing the two most beautiful jerseys in cycling, so that make me very proud. The victory is more important than the time – although the time I gained on not only Froome but the other GC riders is also important."
In just 9.7 kilometres of racing, Dumoulin put almost a minute into Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and 33 seconds into Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), but it is the buffer over Froome that draws the eye.
Froome, who is riding the Giro despite a positive test for salbutamol at last year's Vuelta a España, crashed while reconnoitring the course on Friday morning, and the effects – psychological as much physical, perhaps – undoubtedly hampered his performance.
"Of course, if you crash in the recon, it doesn't make you very confident for the real race," Dumoulin said. "He lost a bit more time in the corners than he would normally do, I guess. It's very unfortunate for him. I didn't expect to take so much time on him or on any of the GC riders, but it was a course that really suited me very well. So yeah, it's a good start for me."
Lopez and Kanstantin Siutsou were also fallers during the recon, with the Bahrain-Merida rider a non-starter due to his injuries, but Dumoulin showed few inhibitions on the sharp corners that dotted the twisting, urban course.
"It's not a risk if you take a good corner quickly," Dumoulin smiled. " know I handle my time trial bike well, especially on a technical circuit with a lot of corners, ups and downs. I knew the dangers of course, and I heard about the crashes, but I already knew I had to be cautious."
Back in pink
There is a distinctly familiar air about the sight of Dumoulin reporting for a press conference at the Giro ensconced in the maglia rosa and clutching his post-race recovery meal, though the reminder from the compere that proceedings had to finish before sundown due to the impending Sabbath was a reminder that this was no ordinary occasion for the Corsa Rosa.
Regardless of location, routine needs to be respected in a three-week race, mind, and Dumoulin apologetically asked for a moment to wolf down some of his rice and zucchini before fielding questions. "I have a couple of years of experience as a GC rider now, dealing with the podium and press conferences, and I know I have to take care of myself," he said. "The others are in their hotels already."
One senses that Dumoulin would be glad to be divested of the maglia rosa in the coming days in order to spare his Sunweb team the burden of controlling the peloton and to spare himself the demands of the podium protocol.
"We're not planning on defending the jersey at any cost, because there are three hectic, difficult weeks to come, so we will see what happens in the next days," Dumoulin admitted. "But it's a good situation to be in, and I don't want to lose time to other GC riders either."
Victory in Jerusalem was Dumoulin's first of a 2018 campaign that had been punctuated by ill fortune to this point. Mechanical problems, crashes and illness contributed to his subdued spring, though Dumoulin was not helped, either, by the pressure he felt to replicate his remarkable 2017 season.
"In the spring, I was too focused on results, and I forgot why it was cool to race my bike," Dumoulin said. "Now I'm just enjoying the moment. I did some tourist stuff in the last couple of days since I got to Israel, and you can see it didn't affect my result."