Tom Dumoulin slumped on a stool in front of the Team Sunweb bus at the foot of the Jafferau climb near Bardonecchia, struggling to find something positive to say about his five hours in the saddle and his defeat to Chris Froome.
Dumoulin was expected to challenge Simon Yates for the maglia rosa after starting the mountain stage just 28 seconds back. Yates cracked and finished 38 minutes down, but Froome stepped up and enjoyed one of the biggest days of his career; taking the stage 19 victory, gaining 3:23 on Dumoulin, and taking the maglia rosa.
Dumoulin remains second overall but is 40 seconds down on Froome, with one final mountain stage to race on Saturday. It appeared to be a huge blow to Dumoulin after two weeks of intense racing.
"It was a crazy stage. I expected Sky to go on the Finestre and they did. I had good legs, but I didn't have the legs to follow. I think I did everything right, but Froome was way too strong. I thought I rode well but Froome rode super well," Dumoulin said, every word heavy as if he was still hauling himself up the climb to the finish line.
Dumoulin suspected that Team Sky had hatched a plan to attack on the Colle delle Finestre and appeared in control when Team Sky upped the pace on the asphalt road first half of the Colle delle Finestre. However, he was unable to go with Froome when he motored away on the dirt roads.
Froome was unable to open a huge gap on the twisting dirt roads but then took risks on the descent, and took advantage of the tactical games playing out behind him. Dumoulin decided to wait for Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and his teammate Sebastian Reichenbach. As they chased together, Richard Carapaz and Miguel Angel Lopez refused to help them as the two South American riders fought their own battle for the best young rider's white jersey.
A kilometre or so up the road, Froome time trialled to a historic victory.
"I knew that they had something special planned for today. The big thing is that he could sustain it," Dumoulin said with a hint of amazement.
"He dropped me on the climb but not by much. Then on the descent, I twice decided to wait for Reichenbach because he wanted to ride with me. Maybe that wasn't a good decision. On my own, I can descend just as fast as Froome, but Reichenbach descends kind of like an old lady. With hindsight that wasn't the best idea. But it's easy to speak afterwards."
Some riders would have perhaps been angry with Carapaz and Lopez, but Dumoulin did not seem to have the will nor energy.
"They're all riding their own race. It was mostly up to me to chase. I'd have liked some help but I can understand them," he said.
Dumoulin eventually grew tired of having to explain his defeat over and over again, getting up and climbing into the Sunweb team bus.
He is still only 40 seconds down on Froome with the final mountain stage 20 to Cervinia left to race. However, it is going to take a massive effort for the Dutchman to find the desire to fight back yet again.
"It's going to be super difficult, but I'll keep on fighting. At the moment I'm a little pessimistic, but we'll see when I wake up tomorrow," Dumoulin concluded, hoping that the morning will bring enthusiasm, energy and perhaps a miracle.
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