For a moment on the sinuous descent of the Miragolo San Salvatore, it looked as though Nairo Quintana (Movistar) faced graver problems at this Giro d'Italia than his hefty deficit to Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) in the overall standings.
35 kilometres from the finish of stage 15 in Bergamo, Quintana overshot a sweeping right bend and rode directly into the crash barrier on the roadside. By the time he had remounted unsteadily on the bike of a teammate, the maglia rosa group had disappeared from view, and Quintana braced himself for a frantic chase in the company of Andrey Amador and Winner Anacona.
His expression as impassive as ever, Quintana was a picture of calm even when he had to pause to change onto his spare bike at the base of the final climb, the Selvino, though at that point, he had little idea that Dumoulin had, as padrone of this Giro, come to the head of the group of favourites and called a truce until the Colombian latched back on.
A fraught finale saw first Bob Jungels (Quick-Step) and then Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) force the issue on the steep, narrow climb through Bergamo Alta, and continue their efforts on the white-knuckle drop to the finish that followed. If Quintana was discommoded by his crash, it hardly showed. He was safely among the 12-man leading group that formed in the closing kilometres and sprinted to a defiant second place on the stage behind Jungels for good measure.
"I was a bit shook up by the crash, but I managed to get back onto the peloton and finish with my rivals so it went well in the end," Quintana said after pausing in the shade of a side-street by the finish area, to the relief of the small group of reporters that had been jogging in his wake. "We overcame a difficult moment with the crash, and it was a day made complicated by those descents and the narrow road on the last climb.
"At first when I set off again after the crash, I was on the bike of a teammate, but after the descent, we decided to stop so I could get back on my own bike. In the end, the guys brought me back up to the peloton without complications."
A week ago, Quintana's Movistar team came under fire from Orica-Scott directeur sportif Matt White when they continued to force the pace on the front of the peloton ahead of the Blockhaus even after the mass crash that brought down, among others, Adam Yates and the Sky duo of Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas. If there was no real retribution here, it was thanks in no small part to Dumoulin, who called for a cessation of hostilities when he heard of Quintana's crash. "It was a gesture from a great rival and a good character," Quintana said.
Despite the dearth of sprinters in the front group that hurtled towards the finish line on Viale Roma, Quintana hardly leapt off the page as a potential winner, but the Colombian chose smartly when he followed Jungels' wheel in the sprint. As Jungels powered to stage victory, Quintana managed to squeeze ahead of Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) to claim second on the stage and pick up a six-second time bonus in the process.
Clawing back six seconds here counts for little, however, when Quintana can expect to lose up to three or four seconds per kilometre to Dumoulin in next Sunday's concluding time trial in Milan. As the Giro breaks for its third and final rest day, Quintana lies second overall, but some 2:41 down on the Dutchman.
"In the finale, I tried to ride as smartly as I could, and I looked to surprise them, but it was hard to win against a rival like Jungels," Quintana said.
It will be hard, too, to win against a rival like Dumoulin, but the Mortirolo, Stelvio et al will reveal more.
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