Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) did not look altogether disappointed to have conceded the maglia rosa as he slowed to a halt on Tel Aviv's Kaufmann Street following stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia, though he gently dismissed the idea that he had deliberately sought to lose the race lead.
The Dutchman finished safely in the main peloton on a stage won by Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) and now lies second overall, a second behind Rohan Dennis (BMC), who picked up a time bonus at the intermediate sprint in Caesarea to move into the pink jersey.
"Other teams had a strategy to take it; we had a strategy not to spend a lot of energy. It was not my plan to lose it; other teams made me lose it," Dumoulin explained neatly to the knot of reporters that drew tightly around him past the finish line.
After winning the opening time trial in Jerusalem on Friday, Dumoulin set out from Haifa with a buffer of two seconds over Dennis and Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Fix All), and it was notable that his Sunweb team made no effort to prevent Campenaerts' attempt to bridge across to the day's early break.
BMC, on the other hand, worked to shut down the European time trial champion's move, signalling Dennis' designs on the pink jersey. The Australian went on to claim a three-second time bonus in Caesarea, where Dumoulin preferred to observe proceedings from a safe remove. By day's end, perhaps sooner than even he had anticipated, Dumoulin was relieved of the burden of carrying the race lead.
"Victor Campenaerts tried to go in the breakaway, but BMC closed it every time, so then I knew they were going to go for the intermediate sprint to try to take the seconds there," Dumoulin said.
"It's never nice to lose a jersey but maybe in three weeks' time, we'll say it was better to that, because now we can save the team a bit more and I can save my time a little more – I'm going straight to the hotel after this – so it could be an advantage."
Even though the chance to beat a hasty retreat to his hotel was part of the attraction of conceding the maglia rosa, the loquacious Dumoulin ate into some of that saved time after the stage by speaking at length in Dutch and English on the finish line.
At one point, a local woman nudged her way into the scrum of reporters to call out to Dumoulin. "We all love your smile," she said, and the Dutchman flashed a bashful Colgate grin in her direction before continuing his thought.
"I expected this. I said this morning it was a possibility that they could try to take the jersey, and I said if it happened, we would not do everything to keep them from doing it," Dumoulin said. "It would cost a lot of energy, and it's a three-week race."
Dennis' chances at overall victory
Dumoulin retains the 37-second buffer he built up over Chris Froome (Team Sky) in the stage 1 time trial, as well as a lead of almost a minute over climbers Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Fabio Aru (UAE-Team Emirates). At this early juncture, of course, the list of genuine contenders for the maglia rosa is but hazily defined.
Dennis, for instance, has long spoken of his desire to replicate Dumoulin's remarkable transition from time triallist to Grand Tour winner and views this Giro as an important preliminary step on that path.
"I don't know, we will see, but I think he can get pretty far," said Dumoulin, who began to tread this particular road with his near miss at the 2015 Vuelta a España, when he led into the penultimate day.
"At the Vuelta a few years ago, even I didn't think I would do so well on GC. You never know, he could go pretty far, or he could maybe lose it in the second or third week. We will see."
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