Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) launched his bid for a second victory at the Giro d'Italia with fifth place on the short but brutal time trial in Bologna. The Dutchman, looking to repeat his 2017 success over the next three weeks, finished 28 seconds behind stage winner Primož Roglič (Team Jumbo-Visma).
The Dutchman was the first rider off the ramp at this year's race – one of the many GC contenders who set off early in order to avoid the threat of thunderstorms, which were forecast late on, but never came. Such was his effort on the climb to the Madonna di San Luca church that he struggled to ride onwards to the team area.
Dumoulin brushed aside television crews to complete two warm-down laps of the car park before stopping to speak to the assembled press.
"I was completely on my limit. I paced myself pretty well," he told reporters.
“I don’t know what it's worth against the others, but it was a solid ride, I think," he added, seemingly positive, but with a sense that he wasn't totally happy with how his ride went.
When all was said and done, Dumoulin ended up fifth on the leaderboard, behind Roglič, Simon Yates, Vincenzo Nibali, and, surprisingly, Miguel Ángel López. At the first checkpoint, he was 15th, 11 seconds down on Roglič, while the 2.1km climb, which averaged a stinging 9.7 per cent, saw him go sixth-fastest, shedding a further 17 seconds to the stage winner.
While the time losses obviously weren't planned, Dumoulin said that the idea was to save something for the climb.
"Definitely [I did that]. I didn't know how much exactly I should hold back. I think that was a question for everybody."
While that was one question the GC contenders had to ask themselves, another was whether to swap over from their TT machines to road bikes ahead of the climb to the finish. In the end, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) was the only contender to do so, with the remainder – including Dumoulin – suffering on their time trial bikes.
The changeover was estimated to take around 20 seconds, while the gains from taking on the climb on a road bike were unclear. Still, either way, the finishing hill was a tough challenge.
"It was brutal on a TT bike," said Dumoulin, still catching his breath after finishing. "It was definitely a brutal way to start, for everybody. If I have a high lactate, I struggle to get out of the saddle, so I had to stay seated, and it worked for me."
Later, with Roglič clad in the pink jersey and Dumoulin's fifth place on the stage confirmed, the Dutchman could gauge his performance against his rivals' rides.
"I went all out and of course hoped for the win, but it wasn't possible," Dumoulin added on his team's website. "It is what it is, and I'm still satisfied with my performance; we are only eight kilometres into the Giro, and at this point Roglič is better than the rest."