If the 2017 Giro d’Italia were to be pitched as a movie, the premise would hardly be a promising one: a lanky rouleur distances his rivals in the long time trial at the start of the second week, manages his advantage sagely thereafter, and then seals overall victory with a measured ride in the time trial on the final day.
The synopsis, however, does little justice to the drama of the race. The Giro is never that simple, and the 2017 edition was gripping all the way through. The real beauty of this year’s race came in the dramatic ad libs that saw the script revised on a daily basis, even if – in hindsight – the overarching narrative should have been apparent from the moment he limited his losses so ably on the first true summit finish at the Blockhaus: this was a Tom Dumoulin joint, and everybody else was in a supporting role.
Nairo Quintana lined up in Sardinia as favourite to complete the first leg of a Giro-Tour double, and seemed to copper-fasten that status by soloing to victory atop the Blockhaus on stage 9. The mass crash at the base of the climb that eliminated Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa from GC contention perhaps also distracted from the key takeaway – Dumoulin was a bona fide contender. Two days later, however, Dumoulin delivered a blockbuster time trial performance on the rough roads of the Sagrantino vineyards at Montefalco to take the maglia rosa and command top billing for the remainder of the race.
When the Dutchman showcased his range by dropping Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali et al on the haul to Oropa on stage 14, it seemed as though the Giro was already over as a contest, but – not for the first time in the corsa rosa¬ – an improbable plot twist kept things ticking along agreeably in the final week.
If the Giro was the best stage race of 2017, then stage 16, the tappone to Bormio, was arguably the single most dramatic day of racing in the entire year. There were murmurs beforehand that Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida and Quintana’s Movistar teams would find common cause in a bid to discommode Dumoulin, and their task suddenly seemed a little more straightforward when the maglia rosa disappeared into the bushes on the roadside at the base of the Umbrailpass for a most urgent toilet break.
Although the pace in the leading group briefly relented amid the confusion as to Dumoulin’s whereabouts and wellbeing, the Giro can ultimately wait for no man, not even the maglia rosa. As Dumoulin remounted and desperately sought to limit his losses, Nibali delivered a brace of rasping attacks that seemed to trouble even Quintana himself.
On another day, Nibali’s daredevil descent of the Stelvio – at one point he bunny-hopped a wet patch just before he turned into a bend – and stage win would have garnered all of the headlines, but Dumoulin’s stout defence of his maglia rosa was the story of the race, even if he and his teammates were admirably restrained when asked for their assessment of a moment that will resonate in Giro history. “'I think you all saw what happened on television, right?” Laurens ten Dam shrugged beyond the finish line. “He had to shit.”
Although Dumoulin lost more than two minutes that afternoon, he still held an advantage of 31 seconds over Quintana entering the final trio of mountain stages. He dealt comfortably with the first instalment to Ortisei, only to stoke controversy after the finish by accusing Quintana and Nibali of combining against him. “I really hope that riding like this they will lose their podium spot in Milan, that would be really nice, and I would be really happy,” Dumoulin said by the podium, provoking a furious reaction from Nibali: “Does he know what karma is? What goes around comes around…”
It was fatigue rather than karma that did for Dumoulin the following day at Piancavallo, where he finally betrayed signs of weakness and conceded 1:07 – and his maglia rosa – to Quintana, and the Dutchman was able to call in some debts of his own on the final mountain stage to Asiago. Quintana, Nibali and Thibaut Pinot dutifully attacked on the Foza, only for Bob Jungels, Bauke Mollema and Adam Yates to take turns to help Dumoulin peg them back on the descent. “It was definitely to help me,” Dumoulin said, frank as ever.
A mere 53 seconds separated the top four on GC – Quintana, Nibali, Pinot and Dumoulin – ahead of the concluding 29.3km time trial into Milan, and even without that late suspense, it had been a breathless three weeks of racing, filled with some notable cameos.
Fernando Gaviria confirmed his burgeoning reputation with four stage wins and a neat line in deadpan humour. Mikel Landa recovered from his Blockhaus crash to launch a startling onslaught of mountain raids in the final week. Tejay van Garderen endured a dark night of the soul in a motorway stop after his disastrous Montefalco time trial, but put a different slant on his Giro with a defiant stage win at Ortisei. Ilnur Zakarin quietly climbed to 5th overall and threatened even more in the Giro’s dying days. Pinot capped a sparkling Giro debut with a deserved win in Asiago.
Ultimately, however, the Giro belonged to Dumoulin, and he duly retook the maglia rosa on the last day with an assured time trial showing, while Quintana held off Nibali for second. For once and for all, the 2017 Giro stuck to the script.
It is perhaps hardly a surprise, then, that Cyclingnews readers voted the Giro d’Italia as the best stage race of 2017, with the Vuelta a España – site of Chris Froome’s Grand Tour double and Alberto Contador’s curtain call – taking second in the polling.
The Tour de France finished third in the voting, albeit with fewer than half of the votes garnered by the Giro. Anna van der Breggen’s Giro Rosa victory took fourth in the poll, ahead of the Critérium du Dauphiné, where the explosive final weekend saw Jakob Fuglsang divest Richie Porte of the yellow and blue jersey.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|2||Vuelta a Espana||5781|
|3||Tour de France||3364|
|4||Giro Rosa (Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile)||750|
|5||Criterium Dy Dauphine||580|
|7||Tour of California||341|
|8||OVO Energy Women's Tour||212|
|9||Vuelta a Pais Vasco||167|
|10||Volta Ciclista a Catalunya||144|