It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Tom Dumoulin’s Giro d’Italia finished not amid the splendour and light of the Arena in Verona, but beneath driving rain on an anonymous stretch of strada provinciale 216 just outside Frascati. The gruppo hadn’t even left the neutralised zone on stage 5 when he wheeled to a halt at the roadside and climbed gingerly into a team car.
After crashing heavily in the finale of stage 4 and losing more than four minutes on his general classification rivals, Dumoulin had already conceded that a second overall victory was now decisively beyond his grasp. Despite injuring his right knee in the fall, however, he was still clutching at the idea of continuing in the race when he woke up on Wednesday morning.
A retinue of journalists and television crews assembled in the lobby of the Sunweb hotel just off the Grande Raccordo Anulare, the vast ring road around Rome, waiting for the expected confirmation that Dumoulin would not start the stage. Upstairs, meanwhile, Dumoulin was gripped by indecision as he tested his injured knee on the rollers. You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.
“I was actually kind of ok until I stood up on the pedals and then I had a huge feeling of pain in my knee. I also tried to some higher power while seated but that also was not possible,” Dumoulin said outside the Sunweb bus at the stage finish in Terracina, where he held an impromptu press conference before leaving the Giro. “I can turn the leg and I can spin the legs, so I could do a recovery ride today, no problem – but not a race.”
Despite those discouraging signs from his warm-up, Dumoulin opted to start the stage, still rebelling quietly against the idea that his Giro challenge could have been ended by mere misfortune. As the bunch left the outskirts of a sodden Frascati, however, he knew that his race was run. The road climbed even before the neutralised zone ended, and the pain in Dumoulin’s knee rose with it. He could go no further.
“I went here for a three-week adventure and I wanted to finish it. I was and I am not ready to go home yet,” Dumoulin said. “I didn’t want to be at home in two days’ time with my knee less swollen and realising that I would have been able to ride. Then I would be feeling sad that I didn’t try. I thought maybe if I pushed through and with some painkillers today it would have been possible. I would always have asked myself that question.”
Dumoulin smiled ruefully. “Now I’ve asked myself and I know the answer.”
Tour de France
Dumoulin was already scheduled to replicate his 2018 racing programme and follow the Giro with a tilt at overall victory at the Tour de France. An x-ray taken after stage 4 confirmed that the Dutchman did not sustain any fractures in his fall, and it seems unlikely that his injuries will keep him off the bike for long. As rain bucketed ceaselessly over Terracina on Wednesday afternoon, however, Dumoulin felt it premature to start mapping out a revised path to the Tour.
“My plan now is the same as after every Grand Tour, so pizza and beer first,” Dumoulin joked. “Then I will see. I don’t know how bad the injury is in my knee. Yesterday we made x-rays and it’s not broken. It’s probably just a big hit and a big blow and it’s very swollen now. That’s why I can’t push any power. I hope it will be gone in a few days’ time and then I can think about the coming weeks again, but I don’t know, I will see.”
Dumoulin was among a number of riders who were brought down when Salvatore Puccio (Ineos) crashed towards the front of the peloton with 6 kilometres remaining on stage 4. Vincenzo Nibali managed to stay upright but criticised Puccio’s error after the stage, but Dumoulin refused to apportion any blame for the incident that forced him out of the Giro.
“I was well positioned on the front and Puccio made a mistake. That can happen, I don’t blame him, it just happens,” Dumoulin said. “I’ve made a few mistakes and made a few crashes myself in the past. It’s just very unfortunate that it’s cost me my Giro, but I guess that’s part of racing.”
Dumoulin was succinct when asked what impact his departure would have on the battle for the maglia rosa, which is currently held by Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma). He knows better than most that the Giro waits for no man. On the Stelvio in 2017, he was able to outpace misfortune. He was unable to do so on this occasion, but not for want of strength.
“It’s one GC contender less,” Dumoulin said. “But I think it will change because I think I had good legs. I think I was up for it.”
A thought to sustain him from here to July.