The Giro d'Italia is a race where the normal rules go out the window. Received wisdom says that time triallists ride cautiously when holding the overall lead of a Grand Tour, but like Tom Dumoulin at Roccaraso a week ago, Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) saw attacking as his most reliable form of defence as the race entered the Veneto region on stage 11.
In a breathless finale that saw a reduced pink jersey group fragment and reform as the road dipped and rose in the hills around Asolo, Jungels took matters in hand when Andrey Amador (Movistar) – second overall at 26 seconds – clipped off the front with 13 kilometres remaining.
Jungels bridged confidently across on the uncategorised climb, but then decided to follow through with his effort. All of a sudden, Amador was no longer attacking the pink jersey, but hitching a ride as the Luxembourger surged to the front and showcased his talents as a rouleur.
The pair were later joined by Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), who proceeded to claim stage honours by winning the three-up sprint, but Jungels, third on the stage, put another 13 seconds into Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde et al.
"We all knew about the narrow road on the climb in the finale," Jungels said. "When Amador attacked, I knew I had to follow him. Then when Ulissi came across, I knew I had no chance – or next to no chance – in the sprint, so I decided to ride on the front and try to gain as many seconds as possible."
On the very day that Dumoulin, stricken by a saddle sore, was forced to abandon the race, it was perhaps fitting that a rider with such similar characteristics should defend his overall lead with the kind of élan showed by the Dutchman during his tenure in pink.
"I like to attack, I like to anticipate," Jungels agreed when the comparison was put to him in Asolo on Wednesday evening. "Tom is not a pure climber and he's a very good time triallist, though I'm not as good in the time trial yet. But we can both follow on the climbs, even on long climbs. I hope I can do that at the weekend and maybe next week too."
A noted time triallist and winner of the under-23 Paris-Roubaix as an amateur, Jungels entered the professional peloton in 2013 uncertain of where precisely to pitch his talents. Dumoulin has faced a similar surfeit of options, though his display at the Vuelta a España last year suggested that his long-term future should lie in three-week races. It was a performance that must surely have given food for thought to other riders with similar aptitudes, Jungels included.
"It was really impressive what he did, he went very far in a Grand Tour. He basically only lost the jersey on the last day," Jungels said. "I don't think I'll be able to do that in this Giro, but I might be able to do it in the future."
Dumoulin spent most of his six days in the maglia rosa stressing that he had not prepared specifically to sustain a challenge over three weeks, and insisting that he was simply defending his lead from day to day with no thought for the longer term.
Jungels has a caveat of a slightly different kind. Though he prepared assiduously to ride the Giro with the general classification – specifically the white jersey of best young rider – in mind, the Luxembourger is unsure of his capabilities in the high mountains over three weeks. The 23-year-old's long Grand Tour finish to date was his 27th place at last year's Tour de France.
Now 24 seconds ahead of Amador – the Costa Rican pegged back two seconds in time bonuses – Jungels is 1:07 ahead of Valverde and 1:09 up on Nibali. "I'm feeling really good," he said when asked about his prospects in this weekend's troika of mountain stages in Friuli and the Dolomites.
"But first of all, tomorrow is stage 12 and I don't think we've had a single easy stage yet. Today it was a fight for 75 kilometres before the break went and I'm expecting the same tomorrow. But let's hope it's the quiet before the storm."
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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.