When Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin rolled across the finish line of the Giro d'Italia's time trial finale to close out his pink jersey-winning ride, fellow Dutchman Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) broke into tears of joy. With his compatriot coming in 15 seconds down on his stage 21 time, van Emden had sealed his first career Grand Tour stage victory.
The 32-year-old rolled down the start ramp within the first hour of racing on Sunday and bumped BMC's Manuel Quinziato off the hot seat a little over a half hour later, completing the 29.3km course in 33:08. From there, it was a very long – and increasingly nervous – wait to see if he would hold on atop the stage leaderboard as the overall contenders hit the road.
His top challenger would prove to be overall Giro winner Dumoulin, who was within a few seconds of van Emden's time at the first two intermediate time checks. Van Emden watched stone-faced as Dumoulin rolled toward the finish, but he exploded with emotion as his compatriot hit the line in Milan a little ways off the mark, making van Emden a Giro stage winner. Dumoulin ultimately finished as runner-up on the stage.
"I'm the happiest man on earth," van Emden said after his long-awaited victory. "I am so happy that I can finally win after all my second places. I have been sitting on the hot seat for a long time and most times, someone else was faster. Finally, I'm the one who can shout how happy I am."
Van Emden knew all along that Dumoulin would be the chief obstacle to overcome. He built his win with a strong ride through the second half of the course, perhaps getting a bit of help from Dumoulin too, who said afterward that his sport director came over the radio telling him to take things very carefully once he had the overall title in the bag.
"First I saw I was two seconds faster and then six seconds faster. My second part was really fast but then I saw him coming through the final part and the clock was ticking. I couldn't watch it any more, I was shouting. So many emotions, winning a stage in a Grand Tour," van Emden said.
Unlike the stage 10 time trial, which pitted riders against a few rollers and a headwind to boot, stage 21 trended downhill nearly throughout. Van Emden prepared for a high-speed day, and delivered accordingly with an average speed just over 53 kilometres per hour even after 20 days of Grand Tour racing.
"I rode a 58-tooth outer ring today and in the back, I had an 11," he said. "It even occurred a few times that I wanted to switch even lower but I was already on the 11. Then you know the speed is good."
Although Dumoulin was a rival for the stage win, van Emden was sure to express his joy that his countryman had earned the Netherlands a general classification victory after all was said and done.
"This is a great day for Dutch cycling," he said. "Tom wins, I win, finally. There are two really happy people inside this tent."