The 17-kilometre haul out of Castel di Sangro to Roccaraso has been conquered by the likes of Fausto Coppi (1953), Bernard Hinault (1980) and Moreno Argentin (1987) at the Giro d’Italia, but the current holder of the maglia rosa, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), seems unperturbed by the Abruzzese climb on the eve of the first summit finish of this year’s race.
Dumoulin fulfilled expectations by landing the opening time trial in Apeldoorn and moving into the pink jersey of race leader in his native Netherlands. Now that the race is back on Italian roads, the question is whether he can proceed to exceed expectations as he did at last year’s Vuelta a España.
Dumoulin surprised by leading that race into the penultimate stage to Cercedilla, before eventually cracking and sliding to sixth place overall in Madrid, but despite that flowering of his abilities over three weeks, he arrived at this Giro insisting that he is not harbouring realistic ambitions of a high overall finish.
“I’m actually repeating myself every day,” Dumoulin smiled during his press conference in Benevento on Wednesday. “I prepared the Vuelta differently, with an eye to be good in the high mountains and I haven’t done that for the Giro, with an eye to the time trials this year [namely the Rio 2016 Olympics - ed.]”
Even so, Dumoulin holds a 16-second lead over Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) ahead of the Giro’s first mountaintop finish, while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), a further ten seconds down, is the best of the overall favourites.
With Sunday’s Chianti time trial seemingly tailored to Dumoulin’s specifications, Nibali, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) et al would dearly like to discommode the pink jersey before then. But while Dumoulin remains sceptical of his long-term chances, at least in public, he is upbeat about his prospects in the coming days.
“Tomorrow will suit me because it’s an uphill finish but it’s not too hard,” Dumoulin said. “But it all depends on my legs. Yesterday my legs were very good, today they were not very good. Maybe today was a good day to have a bad day. But if I have the same legs as yesterday, I will look at the possibilities and not only ride defensively.”
GC contenders (change since stage 1 time trial)
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin||19:40:48|
|3 (-28)||Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre - Merida||0:00:20|
|5 (-17)||Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||0:00:24|
|6 (-10)||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team||0:00:26|
|7 (-16)||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||0:00:27|
|8 (-30)||Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Team Katusha||0:00:35|
|11 (-22)||Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-GreenEdge||0:00:37|
|12 (-31)||Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale Pro Cycling||0:00:40|
|13 (-47)||Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team||0:00:45|
|16 (-51)||Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Team Sky||0:00:47|
|18 (+15)||Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team||0:00:50|
|20 (-77)||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||0:00:54|
|27 (-14)||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Trek-Segafredo||0:01:17|
|DNF||Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
Thursday’s stage brings the Giro from Fonte in Campania, through the tip of Molise and into the region of Abruzzo, and as such had no option but to follow a rocky road. There is hardly a metre of flat over the 157 kilometres, with the peloton facing the Bocca della Selva (17.95 kilometres at an average gradient of 5.6%) and then rippling through the hinterland of Campitello Matese ahead of the long, long climb to the line.
Castel di Sangro is perhaps best-known in the English-speaking world as the subject of the late Joe McGinniss’ book on the local football team, but Dumoulin will scarcely need to conjure up any miracles to keep a hold of his pink jersey on stage 6, even with the ten-second time bonus on offer for the stage winner.
The 17-kilometre ascent rises to an altitude of 1,572 metres, but goes up in instalments, with its average gradient a very manageable 4.8%. The toughest section comes near the bottom, with the gradient averaging touching 12%, and averaging 7.5% over the opening five kilometres, before gradually levelling off.
The road descends gently along a plateau for almost four kilometres as it passes Roccaraso itself and then pitches up again towards the Rifugio Aremogna at the summit. A three-kilometre section with 7.4% gradients offers a springboard for attackers, but the selection seems as likely to come from the back as off the front. Like recent, and relatively similar, finishes at Montevergine or Montecassino, it is difficult to envisage a pink jersey contender soloing clear à la pédale.
In the event of a reduced peloton reaching the summit together, a sprint on the 8.5% slopes in the final 500 metres would suit finishers such as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) or perhaps even Enrico Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo).
With rain forecast for Thursday afternoon, however, Roccaraso might prove more selective than originally anticipated, particularly if one or more teams decide to take up the reins on the rolling terrain in the 40 kilometres before the base of the final climb.
Of the podium contenders, only Ryder Hesdeal (Trek-Segafredo) lies more than a minute off Dumoulin’s jersey ahead of stage 6. While the stage might add some nuance to the GC picture and provide plenty of food for thought, it would be a surprise if it were to provoke substantial changes.
Nibali, Valverde and Mikel Landa (Sky) will, of course, be looking at each other closely for early signs of weakness – Landa struggled already on stage 4 – but they will be intrigued, too, to see just how Dumoulin fares. Living day to day took him to the cusp of Vuelta victory last September, after all.
“I surprised myself at the Vuelta and I hope to surprise myself again in this Giro,” Dumoulin said on Wednesday. “But normally, I don’t think that I’ll surprise myself here.”
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