Probably the only moment of the Giro d'Italia's stage 10 time trial that did not go perfectly for new race leader Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) came after the stage, when he lowered his arms so fast after making a victory salute that the two podium presenters at his sides had to duck to avoid getting accidentally walloped.
Minor protocol problems notwithstanding, on Tuesday when riding his bike Dumoulin could hardly have moved any quicker or hoped for a better result. Third at 30 seconds on Nairo Quintana (Movistar) after a strong performance on the Blockhaus summit finish on Sunday, 48 hours later, Dumoulin's superb time trial has seen the Dutchman leapfrog Quintana to an advantage of 2:23 ahead of the Colombian on GC.
Dumoulin is therefore no longer just one of the many potential GC contenders that lined up in Sardinia ten days ago, preparing to take on the top favourites Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrein Merida) and Quintana. The Colombian said after Tuesday's time trial he now sees Dumoulin as the rider to beat in the Giro d'Italia, and certainly Dumoulin's performance on the Blockhaus, where he finished an impressive third, indicates that Dumoulin's climbing ability has leapt up several levels compared to last year.
But on Tuesday it was Dumoulin's time trialling talent that was on show. Dumoulin had said on Monday that his poor showing in the Tirreno-Adriatico time trial this spring had acted as a wake-up call and on stage 10's 39.8 kilometres through the rolling countryside between Foligno and Montefalco, the 26-year-old showed he was anything but asleep at the wheel.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) came closest to Dumoulin's time of 50:37 and even the Welshman could only manage to finish 49 seconds back. Another time trialling expert, Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors), was also within a minute of the Dutchman, but after that the time gaps widened notably for the general classification hopefuls. A surprisingly strong Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) was the best of the remaining GC rivals, in fifth at 2:07, with Quintana losing a massive 2 minutes and 53 seconds.
The wearer of the pink jersey for six days last year, as well as the winner of the opening time trial in Apeldoorn, this time round Dumoulin's lead and TT victory has far greater resonances for the final GC battle. Last year after 10 stages he abandoned the Giro d'Italia because of a saddle sore, this time round after 10 stages, Dumoulin is now a serious contender for the overall victory.
Was he surprised that he was leading the Giro, one journalist asked him. "No," Dumoulin replied. "It's a lot of time, more than I hoped for, but it's less surprising than my performance on the Blockhaus."
"I lost the leader's jersey on stage 9 last year, now I've got it half way through so that's already an improvement. Maybe last year when I took it in the TT in the Netherlands, it felt even more special, but now it's later in the Giro, and I'm ahead with quite a big time gap. My plan is to do well on GC, and we'll try to keep our focus on that."
His rivals, he said, remain the same as before Blockhaus: Nibali, Quintana and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). After Thomas bounced back in the time trial, it would not be surprising, Dumoulin said, if the Welshman attacked in a mountain stage and got five minutes. Memories of Steven Kruijswijk (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) and how the Dutchman lost control of the race in the final stages of last year in the Alps are still fresh, and Dumoulin emphasised that "anything is possible in the Giro d'Italia."
"The last week will be very difficult, 2:30 is nothing in the last week. The Blockhaus was just one climb," he said. "One bad day and you can lose minutes. So I'm still scared about what can happen."
For now, though, Dumoulin could celebrate that despite losing weight and improving in the mountains, his time trial form is at least as good as when he won in the Ardeche time trial in the Tour last year.
"I was quite surprised the gaps were so big, I didn't have the best feeling ever on the TT," he said. "But I definitely wasn't feeling bad, either. I did a good TT and I fought until the end.
"It was a similar course to last year's tt, and these routes are perfect for me. Last year in the Tour I was maybe feeling even better than today, but I gained three minutes on Quintana there in the Tour, too, so the end result is the same."
"Finally, I think my time trialling is still better than my climbing, but my climbing is getting better, too."
But after such an assured TT performance by Dumoulin through the vineyards of the Sagrantino, when it comes to the GC battle, quite apart from the final week in the Dolomites, the final 29.3km time trial through the suburbs of Milan now has to form part of everybody's calculations, too.
"It'll be much shorter, and much faster and I don't expect to gain as much time as today," Dumoulin said. "But my rivals will need to take back time on me in the mountains, and" – he added to appreciative chuckles from the Dutch media – "they know it."
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