As he rode away from the finish line on Sunday, still in pink but no longer the leader of the Giro d’Italia, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) said although he would have liked to have kept the pink jersey for another day, he felt deeply satisfied with what he had achieved.
With Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) blasting his way with impressive ease to a second straight bunch sprint and into the race lead, as Dumoulin saw it, there was a limit to what he and his team could do under such circumstances.
“I would have liked to have been on the winner’s podium one more time for a Dutch crowd, but it wasn’t possible,” Dumoulin told a small group of reporters before pedaling away.
“It will be a bit easier now getting to the team bus straight away after the finishes and so on, a bit more relaxed, but even though I was sure Marcel was going to do very well in the bunch sprints, I thought at one point we might have kept the jersey.
“That was because at one point in the stage I couldn’t see Marcel anywhere and we thought he might have crashed. However, he came back into the group with his team-mates so that didn’t happen.”
Giant-Alpecin management argued that it might well be possible for Dumoulin, now nine seconds down on the Etixx-QuickStep sprinter, to fight back for the pink jersey as soon as Tuesday when racing re-commences in Italy. But Dumoulin was not so sure.
“If you have seen how strong Marcel was in the sprints up until now, there’s a very good chance he will be able to get over the climbs on those early stages, too, and keep in the lead,” he pointed out. The GC, he confirmed again, was not a target for him.
For Giant-Alpecin team-mate Albert Timmer, “it’s been a great few days, with the win for Tom and then two days in pink,” as he told Cyclingnews after stage 3.
“It’s amazing. We knew it would be hard to defend it, specially with a sprinter like Marcel. He’s really in good shape and we knew there would be a big chance to lose it.”
Timmer echoed Dumoulin’s words after stage 2, when he said that if the leader’s jersey was to go to anybody, he’d be more than happy if it went to Kittel. “I’d prefer us to keep it, but if somebody was going to have it, I’d be more than pleased that it was him.”
Timmer said the defending team’s strategy was a carbon copy of stage 2, as a breakaway of four riders went away - the day before it had been three - meaning that the bonus seconds on offer in the hot spot sprints at least were taken before the main peloton reached them.
“It was quite clear that QuickStep wanted a sprint and we kept the break under control as best we could, there was nothing else to do. Then they went full out for a bunch sprint and that was that. For us that was ok.”
The racing, though, was far less calm than on stage two. “It was a very stressful day. The first part was ok, but after the feed zone when there was a tailwind and crosswind it got a lot more hectic.”
In any case, there are still more goals for Giant-Alpecin to fulfil. “We have the sprints with Niklas Arndt, the time trials with Tom. There’s still a lot more to fight for.”