The Giro d'Italia giveth, and the Giro d'Italia taketh away. Tom Dumoulin's stock as a contender for final overall victory rose steadily through the opening week of racing, and then suddenly plummeted on the Alpe di Poti on stage 8, where the maglia rosa was abruptly dropped by the general classification contenders as soon as they hit the dirt road section with 6.5 kilometres still to climb, eventually losing 1:10 and dropping to 11th overall.
A little over 24 hours earlier in Sulmona, Giant-Alpecin directeur sportif Marc Reef found himself fielding questions from reporters about whether Dumoulin would be unduly penalised in Sunday's Chianti time trial by having to wear a pink skinsuit provided by the race organisation rather than his tried and tested team issue kit. But then, the best-laid schemes have a longstanding habit of going off course at the Giro.
All week, the Italian press has delighted in trotting out Dumoulin's nickname, the ‘Butterfly of Maastricht,' hoping, perhaps, that his tenure in pink would prove to an ephemeral one. Yet while Dumoulin himself had misgivings about his ability to hang tough on the high mountain passes of the third week, nobody expected him to be put to the sword on three miles of bad road in Tuscany.
The burning question in Arezzo on Saturday evening, then, was whether the day had marked the end of Dumoulin's threat for overall victory in Turin. The man himself felt that it had, saying that he was "returning to Plan A" – targeting the time trials – and forgetting the general classification. Astana manager Giuseppe Martinelli agreed, saying afterwards that he had never seen Dumoulin among the top tier of contenders to begin with.
A dissenting voice came from Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who said that Dumoulin "absolutely" could still win the Giro, while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) warned that the Dutchman could well be back in the pink jersey as soon as Sunday afternoon, following the Chianti time trial.
While that much is undoubtedly true – Dumoulin is still only 1:05 off the lead, after all – his travails on Saturday suggested that, no matter how he fares in the time trial, he will struggle to match the best in the high mountains. As Dumoulin pointed out, he wasn't simply out-climbed by just the pre-race favourites: "Right now 20 or 30 riders were better than me today on the climb, so it makes no sense to go for GC."
Dumoulin no longer the reference point
Speaking to Cyclingnews in Foligno on Saturday morning, Nibali's coach Paolo Slongo was of the opinion that it was realistic to lose between 50 seconds and 1:15 to Dumoulin in the Chianti time trial. After the Dutchman's collapse on Saturday afternoon, however, he is no longer the only benchmark for the general classification contenders. Certainly, Nibali will now be more concerned by how much time he puts into the likes of Mikel Landa (Sky) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) than how much he loses to Dumoulin.
Saturday's stage marked an important response for Nibali after his own setback on the road to Roccaraso on stage 6. The Italian was well-placed when Valverde unleashed his stinging attacks on the dirt roads, and then impressed when he came to the front to help put the boot into Dumoulin. The Sicilian lies 5th on general classification, 45 seconds off new leader Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep), but only 9 seconds down behind Valverde.
Though Valverde didn't manage to dislodge the likes of Nibali or Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), he was the most impressive of the general classification contenders on the Alpe di Poli, and has been identified by Martinelli as the great danger to Astana at this race.
The other pre-race favourite Mikel Landa, meanwhile, showed further signs of weakness when he was distanced on the lower slopes of the climb, but then showcased his resolve by clawing his way back on towards the summit and finishing safely in the group of contenders.
The Basque now lies 10th overall, 1:03 off pink but only 18 seconds behind Nibali, even if that gap should stretch again in Sunday's time trial. In the longer-term, however, Landa tried to sound an optimistic note. "If I'm doing this well when I'm feeling so bad, then I'm very optimistic about how I could go in week two or three," he said, adding of Dumoulin's status: "It's not clear yet if he's out of GC, but if so, it's one less problem to worry about."
Zakarin and Kruijswijk
By day's end, Dumoulin and Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo) were the only putative podium contenders to concede ground, with Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale), Andrey Amador (Movistar) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) all finishing in the Nibali-Valverde group.
While Majka (8th overall at 54 seconds) and Chaves (6th overall at 48 seconds) were prominent at the head of that group, three other riders quietly underlined their credentials and could find themselves as headline acts in the battle for the podium after Sunday's time trial.
Uran (7th at 49 seconds) won a very similar test in Barolo two years ago and – after an unsteady start – could ignite his Giro challenge in Tuscany. Kruijswijk (3rd at 36 seconds) performed strongly in the Valdobbiadene time trial a year ago, and could well inherit the pink jersey from Brambilla, even though the Italian will put up fierce resistance.
It should not have escaped anyone's attention, meanwhile, that Zakarin, the quiet man of this Giro, again came through the day without putting a pedal stroke askew. The Russian hasn't missed a beat through the first week and lies just 23 seconds off the overall lead in second. 40.5 kilometres through the Chianti hills will reveal a lot more.
GC contenders after stage 8 (movement on GC/gap to Zakarin)
|2 (-1)||Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Team Katusha||33:39:37|
|3 (-2)||Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||0:00:10|
|4 (-2)||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||0:00:13|
|5 (-3)||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team||0:00:22|
|6 (-5)||Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-GreenEdge||0:00:25|
|7 (-3)||Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale Pro Cycling||0:00:26|
|8 (-4)||Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team||0:00:31|
|9 (-4)||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale|
|10 (-5)||Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Team Sky||0:00:40|
|11 (+10)||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin||0:00:42|
|12 (+10)||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team||0:00:49|
|13 (-4)||Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team||0:00:55|
|14 (+10)||Bob Jungels (Lux) Etixx - Quick-Step||0:00:58|
|16 (+9)||Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre - Merida||0:01:04|
|22 (+1)||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Trek-Segafredo||0:02:13|
More on this story...
- Giro d'Italia stage 8: Quotes from the finish line
- Giro d'Italia: Stage 8 video highlights
- Dumoulin defeated, drops out of Giro d'Italia contention
- Nibali to the fore as Giro d'Italia takes on new complexion
- Giro d'Italia: Brambilla's plan comes together on dusty road to Arezzo
- Valverde strikes first blow in 2016 Giro d'Italia on Tuscany climb
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.