Tom Dumoulin’s post-stage routine changed suddenly at the finish atop Piancavallo, with the Dutchman free to ride to his Team Sunweb bus and warm down on the rollers after losing the maglia rosa to Nairo Quintana.
Dumoulin has worn the pink jersey as the Giro d'Italia leader for 10 days since dominating the stage 10 Sagrantino time trial. He survived the need for a sudden toilet stop and stomach problems on stage 16 and kept the jersey with determination and aggression, but he suffered on the climb to Piancavallo as his rivals turned the screws during his bad day.
Dumoulin made things worse by committing what he called ‘a rookie error’ early in the stage when he was caught at the back of the peloton on the descent of the Cima Sappada.
He and his teammates were forced to chase for a mad half hour as Movistar and Bahrain-Merida split the peloton in an attempt to put the maglia rosa in trouble. The race eventually came back together, with Dumoulin admitting his mistake and so extinguishing the social media storm about fair play and suggestions that Nibali and Quintana had attacked while Dumoulin stopped for a natural break.
"I had bad legs from the start and I made a rookie mistake at the beginning, sitting at the back of the bunch on the downhill. Then Bahrain and Movistar split the bunch and I was in the second group and needed, with my bad legs, to go to the maximum to come back, in the middle of the stage,” Dumoulin admitted as he spun out the pain from his bad legs on the rollers.
“Perhaps Nibali tried to flick me on the downhill today...” he added with a smile and a hint of mischief, knowing that his spat with Nibali and then his apology before the stage start had been the talk of race for the last 24 hours. This time there was no vitriol and accusations, just an honest confession.
“He did a good job and Movistar did a good job. They profited from my bad day, that’s good for them but bad for me,” he said.
Suffering on the climb to Piancavallo
Dumoulin was well protected by his Sunweb teammates on the approach to the climb up to Piancavallo. He seemed likely to defend his pink jersey as he had on the similar finish to Oropa last Saturday. However, a week is a long time in a Grand Tour, and Dumoulin was in trouble; it was clear to see on his face. As the gradient began to hurt, he slipped to he back of the front group and then lost contact with more than 11km left to climb.
It could have spelled total disaster, but Simon Geschke gave him some vital help and kept the peloton in sight, Then Dumoulin fought all the way to the finish just as he did on the stage to Bormio after his sudden toilet stop. He crossed the line 1:15 down on late attackers Pinot and Zakarin, 1:09 down on Quintana and 1:07 behind Nibali.
He was waved away from podium duties, didn’t have anti-doping, and so was free to roll down to the Team Sunweb bus.
Dumoulin now sits 38 seconds down on Quintana but leads Nibali by five seconds. Pinot is fourth overall at 53 seconds down on Quintana, with Zakarin fifth at 1:21 and Pozzovivo sixth at 1:30. They have all raced for 3,389km so far in the 100th Giro d’Italia but are all within 90 seconds of victory, with two stages remaining.
“In the final I tried to limit my losses and I did that very well. I think with good legs it would have been possible to stay with them but the legs were just not there,” Dumoulin explained, cool and collected enough to realise he had been given a smoothie drink instead of the recovery drink he had asked for.
“Luckily, my team was really strong today. They saved me a couple of times, so I have to thank them, otherwise it would have been a much worse day. Bad legs today, but I hope they’ll be better tomorrow."
Asked what will happen during Saturday’s final mountain stage over Monte Grappa and then up to Asiago via the testing final 14km Foza climb, Dumoulin preferred not to make any detailed predictions. He can only hope he can stay with or again limit his losses to his overall rivals and then fight back with a huge effort in the 29.3km Monza-to-Milan time trial on Sunday.
“I had bad legs today. I hope it was just today,” he said. “I don’t know how they’ll be tomorrow, I just hope they’re better.”
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