No alarms and no surprises. The Giro d'Italia's stage 11 trek through the Apennines from Florence to Bagno di Romagna had all the appearances of ambush country, but Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) suffered few scares during his first day in the maglia rosa in this year's race.
Before the start, a few hundred yards down the hill from the stirring Piazzale Michelangelo, Vincenzo Nibali's directeur sportif Paolo Slongo wondered aloud if the day after Dumoulin's dominant time trial victory in Sagrantino di Montefalco wine country might just be the time to test the new leader's resolve. History is littered with such examples, such as the coalition of rivals that did for Jean-Francois Bernard at the 1987 Tour de France the day after his storming win in the Mont Ventoux time trial.
Bahrain-Merida duly had Giovanni Visconti in the sizable break that forged clear on the day's first climb, the Passo della Consuma, while Movistar's decision to send no fewer than three men up the road suggested it might prove a very trying afternoon for Dumoulin.
Instead, and despite the frissons provided by Nibali and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) on the final ascent of Monte Fumaiolo, Dumoulin enjoyed a relatively untroubled outing in pink. The Dutchman finished alongside his chief rivals in a 16-man group that came home 1:37 down on stage winner Omar Fraile (Dimension Data). The road to Milan is long, but Nibali, Quintana et al will need to do more than this.
"The stage went exactly like we expected," Dumoulin said afterwards. "It was a hard fight on the first climb to get in the break. We knew some guys at 5-6 minutes would attack and we never stressed. We had Laurens [ten Dam] in front and behind were always in control. It's nice to have a nice gap on GC. It gives me more time to play with. We were never in stress and the team was always in control. It was a perfect day."
Dumoulin's Sunweb team worked on the front to keep the breakaway group, which contained Quintana's teammate Andrey Amador, under control. When first Nibali and then Pinot accelerated on the last climb, Dumoulin was suddenly isolated, but he soon had company when ten Dam dropped back from the front group to help his leader. The veteran ten Dam will be crucial to Dumoulin's bid to hold pink through the mountains of the final week, particularly in the absence of the injured Wilco Kelderman.
"Laurens used to live near me in Maastricht for a long time but now he's moved to the north of the Netherlands," Dumoulin said. "I used to train with him quite often and he made me realise what the life of the cyclist really is. He was really important to me like that, and now he's in our team. Off the bike, too, he's super important. Today he was amazing once again. He has so much experience, and he's like a good wine: he only gets better with age."
Two flatter days await as the Giro makes the trek north towards the Alps, where Saturday's summit finish at Oropa looks set to be the next major rendezvous for the GC contenders. After his startling display in Wednesday's time trial, Dumoulin holds a buffer of 2:23 over Quintana and 2:47 on Nibali, with Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Pinot also lurking at 2:38 and 2:40, respectively. Dumoulin shrugged off the idea that carrying the race lead over such lofty company brings additional pressure.
"I don't know if I'm under pressure. They know they have to make up a lot of time to beat me in the mountains, so the pressure is on them as well as on me," said Dumoulin, who admitted that he is familiar with just one of the mountain stages still to come, the tappone over the Mortirolo and Stelvio to Bormio.
"I don't know all the climbs in the final week, but I know the Mortirolo and Stelvio because I trained in Livigno in 2015," Dumoulin said. "I don't know most of the other climbs, but we have it on video and I'm not scared."
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.