After crossing the finish line in Valdobbiadene, Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) paused by a television screen near the mixed zone and watched intently as maglia rosa João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) negotiated the final kilometres of the Giro d’Italia’s stage 14 time trial.
Kelderman had rolled down the start ramp in Conegliano with legitimate aspirations of divesting the neo-professional of the pink jersey, even if his priority was to gain time on the more battle-hardened candidates for final overall victory, men like Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team).
On finishing his effort, Kelderman knew that he had held up that second part of the bargain, gaining 1:06 on Nibali and 1:25 on Fulgsang, and he could also guess that he would not be visiting the podium to receive a maglia rosa on Saturday. Even so, he was curious to see Almeida in action for himself.
Almeida duly stopped the clock with the sixth best time, 1:30 behind stage winner Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), and 16 seconds ahead of Kelderman, who had to settle for ninth place on the stage. Kelderman was already speaking to the group of journalists gathered a few metres up the road when the television screen confirmed the general classification: after 14 stages, the Dutchman was still second overall, but now 56 seconds behind Almeida.
“I just saw the result quickly, and actually, I did a good TT,” said Kelderman, who was then informed of the situation on GC. “Yeah, that’s good, I think. I knew that Almeida was a good TT specialist. He was also second in Palermo [on stage 1 – ed.], so we could see that he was a really good time triallist. The big mountains are still to come, so I’m satisfied with the result now.
“It’s hard to beat Almeida in a time trial, and you see also he’s super good right now. But when I look to myself, I did a good TT. Compared to Nibali and the other favourites, I am better so that’s also a good point."
Prior to this weekend, Nibali had earmarked Kelderman as the most in-form of the established GC favourites and the danger-man in the time trial.
“When you know upfront that you’re doing the Giro and there’s lots of TT kilometres, you train a little bit extra on it,” said the Dutchman, who lived up to Nibali’s billing on Saturday, even if Almeida, who has evinced calm throughout his long tenure in pink, is now very clearly a contender for final overall victory.
In the GC, Kelderman is now the only man within two minutes of Almeida and he holds a buffer of 1:15 over Pello Bilbao (third overall), 1:34 over Nibali (fifth) and 3:12 over Fulgsang (11th). Having entered the race with designs on a podium finish, Kelderman’s expectations have risen steadily since his attack on the summit finish at Mount Etna on stage 3. He was again the best of the GC men at Roccaraso last weekend. Sunday’s summit finish at Piancavallo seemed to announce itself as another opportunity.
“I’m surprising myself. Up to now, the whole Giro is going better than I expected,” said Kelderman. “There are still big mountains to come and a hard last week. In the end, the gap is going to be in minutes and not in seconds anymore.”
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