Dumoulin v Quintana, time trialist v climber | The Giro d’Italia final week wrap
The idea with these round-ups is that I focus only on those stages that affected the general classification. This policy hasn’t proven especially time-saving on this occasion, as the numerate among you will realise upon reading the following subheadings.
The race was so eventful, in fact, that this summary has ticked up towards being brewworthy – by which I mean it’s over 1,600 words, so you may want to consider sticking the kettle on.
As you’ll remember from my last rest day wrap, immediately prior to stage 16 Nairo Quintana was the only rider within three minutes of race leader Tom Dumoulin – and even he was 2m41s behind.
After this stage, four riders were within three minutes and Domenico Pozzovivo was only a clunky gear change away at 3m05s. It was, by any stretch, a successful outcome in terms of the race as a spectacle, actually increasing the possibilities rather than reducing them.
The spur for all this excitement was that Dumoulin became consumed by an urgent necessity at an extremely inopportune time.
“Comfort breaks” are generally taken when the peloton’s riding without purpose. What you don’t do is pull over and poke the old chap out of the leg of your shorts while everyone’s hustling towards the final climb at the end of a long and brutal day of climbing.
Had it been a mere python-siphoning, doubtless Dumoulin would have felt the slow onset and timed his stop more carefully. Unfortunately for him, it was something a little more serious and these kinds of things can at times be rather more demanding of one’s attention than even the Giro d’Italia.
In the words of the man himself: “I just had some problems and needed a dump. I could not hold it any more. It was after the first time on Stelvio, I started to feel it in the downhill and I just had to stop – it was not possible to continue any more.”
You hear that, people. It was NOT POSSIBLE to continue without a quick shorts-drop. We’ve all been there. You’ve got to feel for the lad.
It was good of him to gift us with the phrase “I feel it in the downhill” though. I can definitely imagine myself saying that when unnecessarily keeping friends and family abreast of personal developments in the future.
Dumoulin returned to the road impressively/worryingly quickly after unburdening himself, but a one minute gap became two on the climb itself, even as the other contenders squabbled amongst themselves up ahead.
At the top of the climb, Quintana, Domenico Pozzovivo, Vincenzo Nibali and Ilnur Zakarin had emerged as the strongest riders and it was now a downhill battle for time.
Pozzovivo is of course famously dreadful downhill, while Zakarin has an almost preternatural ability to fall off his bike – a superpower that really doesn’t lend itself to rapid descending. Nibali, in contrast, is known as one of the finest descenders in the world.
The Italian gained 12 seconds on Quintana en route to the stage win and a fair amount more on the other two.
A little while later, Dumoulin crossed the line, managing to retain the race lead by just 30 seconds or so.
The finale of this stage featured a great deal of pissing about, almost certainly because everyone was absolutely cream crackered.
Quintana was mindful of the need to not just get ahead of Dumoulin but also secure a good lead to defend in the closing time trial. He had attacked with 50km to go but even after linking up with Nibali and two team-mates, Dumoulin was still able to wind him in.
Quintana attacked again on the final climb, got a few seconds ahead and then just hung there like a pacemaker, unable to enlarge the gap.
Eventually the Colombian gave it up as a bad job and returned to the group of favourites, at which point Nibali attacked – to even less effect. Even Dumoulin took a turn striking out, but it transpired that the only way to escape was to be outside the top three.
Thibaut Pinot, Pozzovivo and Zakarin all streamed away with no reaction from the trio of men ahead of them in the general classification who all opted to stalemate their way through the last couple of kilometres together, ceding time to their lesser rivals.
If there were no headline changes to the standings after this stage, the upshot was that there were now six men separated by little more than two minutes. Dumoulin was still top of the pile.
The climbing finally told for Tom Dumoulin at this point – but at least he was already ahead.
This is why time trials enhance mountain stages immensely. Without time trials to balance them, every day of climbing will tend to result in already established gaps between the contenders growing larger. With them, the hierarchy can actually change, as Dumoulin’s week on the defensive proved.
In the end, the Dutchman didn’t so much fail to respond to an attack as slope sadly off the back of the favourites’ group after struggling with the pace on the steeper lower slopes. A fading version of his former self, he dimmed his screen and tried to wring as much as he could out of his dwindling battery life, but he couldn’t avoid ceding time.
Pinot, Pozzovivo and Zakarin again gained time on the three men ahead of them and the day ended with the top six separated by just 1m30s.
Quintana now led Dumoulin by 30 seconds. But what kind of a gap would that prove to be when there was still a time trial to come? Enough?
This stage saw Dumoulin deliver a passable impersonation of either the T1000 or the truck from Duel – I can’t really decide which. Maybe you have your own favourite relentless pursuer who simply will not disappear.
Again and again the Dutchman’s rivals attacked him and got a gap. Yet each time the camera looked back down the road, there he was again growing ever-larger in the background, on the cusp of regaining contact without ever quite managing to do so.
The final descent of this year’s Giro began with the two dreadful descenders, Pozzovivo and Zakarin, out front. Unsurprisingly, they were caught by Quintana, Nibali and Pinot within no time. The five of them rode to the finish together and Pinot took the sprint for the stage victory. Dumoulin finished just 15 seconds later.
It was an absorbing run-in. Not to repeat myself, but winning the stage wouldn’t have been enough for any of these riders. They all needed to take time on Dumoulin because of the next day’s time trial and this lent a whole new dimension to proceedings beyond the rather more immediate battle between themselves.
When the dust settled, Dumoulin was off the podium in fourth, but not in the least bit horrified by a 53-second gap to Quintana.
Quintana said, “we’ll play all our cards flat out” about this time trial. No-one really knew what he meant, so we’ll just have to presume that he did just that.
Alas, it was not enough: Tom Dumoulin is not a man who rides at the same speed as climbers during a time trial. He duly vaulted from fourth to first.
As I said, the time trials made the mountain stages more exciting, but an even more miraculous feat was that the mountain stages somehow made a time trial interesting to watch. This is something that very rarely happens, but the tension was palpable and might I say expertly enhanced by the conflicting information about time gaps provided by the broadcaster.
It wasn’t just the viewers who were confused. Dumoulin eased off halfway through his ride in the belief that a crash was now the only way he could lose – only when he clambered off his bike, the TV told him he had just a three second advantage over Quintana who was still out on the course.
Turns out that was wrong. He was well ahead. He had overhauled the 53-second gap and then eked out another 31 seconds on top of that to win the Giro d’Italia in fine style. Nibali came third.
A quite brilliant race in which contrasting riders were pitted against one another on a course that gave opportunities to everyone.
And Dumoulin was a more than fitting winner.
In the mountains he survived, then thrived, then clung on, then sort of folded but still gave it everything to keep himself in contention.
In the time trials he was quite simply without rival. He finished second on the final day by just 15 seconds despite easing off the gas halfway through, and he won the first one by an absolute country mile (a country mile can be covered in 49 seconds by bicycle).
Put it this way, Tom Dumoulin won the 2017 Giro d’Italia despite taking time out to stop for a shit.
There are a few stage races which I may or may not report on, but realistically our next major appointment is the Tour de France in July.
As there’s likely to be a gap, it’s worth pointing out that I can send you emails of these posts – here’s how and why you should sign up for them. Please tell anyone else who might be interested. I’m too lazy to try and market the website, so it basically just floats around on whatever dregs of goodwill drift its way.
I can’t say for definite what format Tour de France reportage will take. I usually do daily reports, but maybe that’s too much? Maybe you prefer the weekly ones we’ve ended up with for this Giro? Who knows. It will most likely just depend on how much time I have anyway, so it’s probably not worth putting it to a vote.
Hope you’ve enjoyed yourselves. Meet you back here in a bit.