Nairo Quintana gained two minutes on Tom Dumoulin in the high mountains of the Giro d'Italia's third week. On any other stage, it would have been an expected fact. But on stage 16 to Bormio, the advantage came not from the Colombian's aggression, nor from the tactics of his Movistar team.
Instead, Dumoulin was forced to stop to evacuate his bowels at a critical moment in the stage, and despite the Colombian's wishes to extend him sportsmanlike courtesy, the racing continued. And when it did, Quintana was less spark and more slow burn.
As the best pure climber in this year's Giro d'Italia and with a gap of 2:41 to make up on Dumoulin, Quintana was expected to go on the rampage on the long Alpine climbs of the Stelvio and Umbrailpass. He sent several teammates into the attack of the day and the stage looked set for Quintana to make an aggressive move. Instead, he stayed hidden in the peloton and only showed himself in the final kilometres of the Umbrailpass when he got away with Vincenzo Nibali.
If Quintana been able to stay with Nibali on the descent he might have gained enough time on Dumoulin to take the pink jersey. Instead, he backed off a little and finished alone, 12 seconds behind. He is still 31 seconds behind Dumoulin, and has yet to really put the sword to his rivals.
"We've reduced the difference quite a bit, and I didn't want to take too many risks on the descent because Nibali was going down very fast," Quintana explained.
"The sensations are good. It was an important reduction of time, and now we are a lot closer. It gives us a bit more confidence, and the team is working well. We hope to continue climbing up the ladder in the remainder of the race and we hope to take back even more time in the days ahead," he said to the scrum of Colombian and international media at the finish line. Quintana praised his team and switched the topic of conversation to his decision to briefly wait for Dumoulin after his toilet stop with 33 kilometres to go.
"I didn't attack and I didn't put the pressure on in the moment of his difficulty. I was respectful towards him, returning the favour from the other day when he was a real gentleman when I crashed. We respected that, but other teams wanted to make their own race, not profiting from that misfortune but just going for their own interests."
In the red on the Stelvio
Quintana simply admitted to being in the red on the Stelvio, and his usual poker face was not going to give anything else away.
"I didn't want to take risks in the descent," he said.
"I felt good, and I got time on Dumoulin. It was a good stage for us. We sent riders in the front to make a movement, but the favourites were in the red zone on the second climb up the Stelvio.
"The pace had been really high all day, and after such a long and hard stage, all contenders were pretty much equal – which means, pretty much dead tired. Of course, I'd have liked to take five minutes on the leader but the reality was different to what we wanted. Many times, will and might are not the same thing. All in all, we're satisfied with our result from today.
"Now we must continue to fight against Dumoulin but also keep an eye on Nibali. He's close to us, he's racing at home and he's really stepping up his game – we must continue to stay close to him."