Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) spent a fair part of his Giro d'Italia rest day press conference playing a two-handed game: first recognising that Tuesday's time trial is a good one for him, then refusing to say whether that meant he would be in pink after the stage.
"Maybe I'll do a good ride in the TT, get fifth, but Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) will get third," said Dumoulin, currently third at 30 seconds on the Colombian leader of the Giro d'Italia.
"I know I'm capable of a good result, normally my chances are higher [than Quintana's] and I know tomorrow I will, if all goes well, be up with the top riders. But that could convert into a tenth place on the stage, or a first."
Dumoulin is the best-placed of the three Dutch contenders after the first round of mountain climbing, so it was only logical that Dutch media interest in his prospects in the Giro d'Italia GC is very high. But the man from Maastricht's caginess in the face of repeated badgering over his prospects of Giro d'Italia leadership contrasted sharply with his own voluble enthusiasm for the 39.8-kilometre time trial through the hills and vineyards around Foligno. "I saw it the day after Tirreno-Adriatico for the first time" - indeed, it's the only stage of which he has done a full reconnaissance, he told Cyclingnews ten days ago - "and I think I will be do well there."
But, he pointed out, assuming Quintana does not perform brilliantly, Dumoulin is far from being the only rider with a chance of taking the lead, with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), a much improved time triallist, two seconds ahead of him on GC, and 28 seconds down on Quintana.
"It's not all about Quintana, I was feeling pretty good in Romandie [last year] and Pinot beat me there in the time trial, even if it was a bit shorter than Tuesday's TT," Dumoulin said. He was equally prosaic about the time trial course, pointing out that "I like the time trial route here because it's hilly, but others also like it for the same reason. If it was flatter, I wouldn't be so happy, but the other GC contenders would hate it even more."
Another Dutch journalist asked if Dumoulin was he scared of taking the pink jersey, given in the past he's said that it's better to hunt [the lead] than be hunted. "I still feel that, but if I could take the lead tomorrow, I would," Dumoulin answered. "I know I would be busier, and of course it's pressure and you're being hunted, plus there's the doping control every day and the press conferences, it's a lot of time." But, to judge from what he said, whatever the drawbacks of holding the maglia rosa, being in the lead of a Grand Tour more than compensated for that.
Read more on this article
- Robert Millar blog: Rating the Giro d'Italia contenders
- Giro d'Italia: Analysing the GC contenders after Blockhaus
- Giro d'Italia: Rest Day round-up - Podcast
- Quintana: Montefalco time trial will suit the specialists
- Giro d'Italia: Pinot not afraid of the pink jersey
Dumoulin's poor time trial performance in Tirreno-Adriatico's short final stage against the clock in March has become a familiar route for journalists wanting to suggest that the 26-year-old Team Sunweb rider has come off the boil when racing against the clock. Unsurprisingly, on Monday, his 13th place in the 10-kilometre San Benedetto del Tronto TT was hauled out once again by a reporter by way of example of Dumoulin's uneven performances against the clock.
"To be honest, it wasn't one I like, it was flat and short," Dumoulin pointed out, "even if in the past I've done really well on those kinds of course. Tomorrow [Tuesday] is exactly how I like my time trials and in any case I've been working more on my time trialling again since Tirreno. That result in March reminded me that I shouldn't take them lightly, I have to really, really suffer until I cannot suffer any more in the time trials and that was a good wake up call about that."
Curiously enough, there are fewer question marks right now about Dumoulin's climbing, following his superb third place on the Blockhaus, ahead of much more gifted mountain racers like Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and only 24 seconds down on Quintana. The gaps on the Blockhaus were small enough, in fact, to ensure that Quintana cannot - assuming he does lose time on Tuesday - race conservatively between now and Milan, particularly with a flat TT on the final day.
"I was a little bit surprised, the Blockhaus was better than I thought it would be, and I'd definitely have signed for third on the stage beforehand if I could have," Dumoulin said. "To be third on one of the hardest uphill finishes of the Giro d'Italia was really pleasing."
However, he had no idea if it was his best performance ever on a major mountain climb. "I'm not looking at the data, I'm riding with a power meter but I'm not looking at it on the screen, I'm looking at other stuff, because I don't want to know, I feel better that way," Dumoulin explained. "After the Giro d'Italia it'll be nice to find out but now I'm not interested."
What he did feel was surprising was a lack of collaboration from Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) on the final part of the climb. Discussing Mollema's refusal or inability to work with him, Dumoulin argued at length in favour of an all-Dutch climbing alliance in the stage, before concluding "We're still friends, eh? We texted each other after the stage. But I didn't understand his tactics."
"We're two Dutch guys, so let's work together to get more of a gap, but he wasn't able to or didn't want to, so I tried to drop him. About five times, actually, before I managed to drop him."
"He's a fighter, a pitbull, biting on my back wheel and not letting go anymore. At the end I was happy to drop him, but it'd have been better to ride together and get even more time on the competition."
The million-dollar question, of course, given Dumoulin's ability against the clock and his continuing improvement in the climbs, is whether he can win the Giro d'Italia. A simple question, the Italian journalist who posed it, said to him.
"That's not simple," Dumoulin retorted, "and it's way too early to be going into questions like that. We're only nine days into the Giro d'Italia and this was by far the easiest part. The last week is going to be epic, I hope in a good way, but it could go either."
"Yesterday we did the first real GC test, which went really well and I've very happy about that, but compared to the last week of climbing, it's nothing."
In between the first week's climbing and the last, though, comes Tuesday's crucial mid-race time trial and Dumoulin's performance there, in a speciality in which he usually shines, could act as a key foundation stone for his final GC result. By Tuesday evening, then, Dumoulin's pathway to Milan will surely be much clearer.