If Tom Dumoulin has something akin to home court advantage when the Giro d'Italia resumes with the Rovereto time trial on Tuesday, then the rainbow-festooned time trial bike perched next to him during his rest day press conference had the feel of a championship banner hanging from the rafters.
Based on that lofty reputation alone, Dumoulin might expect to recoup his 2:11 deficit to Simon Yates in the general classification during the 34km test from Trento to Rovereto, but after reconnoitring the course on Monday, the Dutchman struck a cautious note about the likelihood of making such gains on stage 16.
"I don't think so, because it's super fast, and if you go in a TT position with the tailwind we had today in the recon, then even if you do only 300 Watts, you are going at 50kph, and eventually there is a limit to how much faster you can go," Dumoulin said. "The time differences will not be very big I guess, but it depends a bit on the wind. If the wind is like today I think the differences will be small, and he would have to do a bad TT to lose his jersey to me."
The prevailing conditions in this Giro are not as favourable to Dumoulin as they were a year ago when he seized the pink jersey with a crushing victory in the Montefalco time trial in week two and then secured his overall win in the concluding test in Milan. Stage 16 is the only time trial left in this year's race – Dumoulin won the short opener in Israel – while Yates, already winner of three stages, will surely relish the trio of tough Alpine days in the final week. On Tuesday afternoon, every last pedal stroke counts for Dumoulin along Strada Provinciale 90.
"I like any time trial, but I've seen nicer courses for me personally," Dumoulin said. "This one is straightforward, along the highway, fast. There are a few corners especially at the end, it goes slightly up and down but not a lot, it's mostly pushing power in a straight line."
Since Dumoulin stalked Yates up the final climb to Osimo's historic centre on stage 11, the Giro has had the feel of a duel between the defending champion and the British debutant, with each man repeating the same mantra on an almost daily basis. For Yates, the mission was to put 'minutes' into Dumoulin ahead of the time trial. Dumoulin, for his part, reckons that Yates cannot be beaten if he maintains his current level of performance through the third week of the race.
"[Yates] always been a strong rider in the past years, and he's still young, but he's really stepped up his game like I did last year. That's nice for him and not so nice for me," Dumoulin said.
"It would be quite remarkable if I won in Rome looking at how the situation is now, but anything can happen, and stranger things have happened in the past in Grand Tours in the third week, so I am keeping my hopes up. I'll just fight every day until Rome."
It was put to Dumoulin that Thursday's opening Alpine leg, where the final haul to Pratonevoso is the only climb, was similar to the stage he won at Oropa 12 months ago, but he was cautious about whether he could repeat the feat against this opposition.
"I like stages like that, rather than one with five mountains, but given how Yates is riding now, I don't have the advantage over him on climbs," Dumoulin said. He was sceptical, too, about the prospect of Yates suffering a giornata no in the two mammoth days that follow.
"There's all kind of tactical stuff you can do, but you still have to drop him first, and I don't know where to do that at the moment. I am just waiting, waiting, waiting, and hoping the moment comes."
Dumoulin described his own physical performance at this year's Giro as being roughly in line with his 2017 showing, with the usual caveats that no two races and no two efforts are exactly equivalent. Following Saturday's severe finale to Monte Zoncolan, meanwhile, it was pointedly noted on social media that the times of stage winner Chris Froome and maglia rosa Simon Yates were the quickest on the ascent since 2007. Dumoulin, who placed 5th on the stage, 37 seconds down, said that he could vouch for his own performance on the Zoncolan.
"With the past of cycling, I can completely understand that there are questions, but I know I did it clean," Dumoulin said. "You don't have to believe me, but I know for myself that I did it clean, and I only lost a little bit of time on Froome, half a minute or a little more. What can I say about it?"
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