Category Archives: Giro d’Italia

Intermittent coverage of the Giro d’Italia

Double Dutch in Milan as the best man wins the Giro

Dutchman Jos van Emden won the final stage time-trial in Milan yesterday. And I apologise to him, for that is all I’m going to say about it. For it was behind him, where the major time differences were being won and lost, that it mattered. It was another Dutchman who stole the show. Tom Dumoulin. The first Dutchman to win the Giro d’Italia, which almost seems hard to believe. The first since Joop Zoetemelk to win a Grand Tour of any sort. It is a nation that has been devoid of success for some time, though in recent years, they have been knocking on the door. Today, it opened.

And you get the sense that this won’t be the one and only Grand Tour win for Dumoulin. How can he not be licking his chops at the idea of a run at the Tour in 2018? How about the Vuelta later this year? Getting over the final hurdle to win one, after coming so close at the Vuelta in 2015, will fill him with confidence. And trust it to be a time-trial in which he sealed the deal. That’s where he gained the lions share of his time while defending strong in the mountains. The next Miguel Indurain, some say. Though different too.

Many felt he would take time where he did, but they also felt he would lose more time in the high mountains than he did. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for that day of poop on the valley road between the Mortirolo and the Stelvio, he’d have won with ease. That little call of nature cost him 1 minute of a stop and must have snapped his rhythm. Take that back, and more, and today’s time trial, the one seen for three weeks as being so crucial, would have been irrelevant.

But likewise, had he stopped for much longer, he might well have lost the race. Such are the fine margins by which three week long races are won and lost. (Indeed, as it was, it took Nairo Quintana to hit the final kilometre of this 3,609km route before Dumoulin knew with any certainty that glory was his). It’s almost surreal. Remember Chris Froome running on Mont Ventoux at last years Tour? The balance of that race hung on that iconic moment. This one wasn’t quite so picturesque, but it’s the moment history will look back on as the pivotal one in this Giro.

Each rider will have their own ‘what if’ moment, of course. For Vincenzo Nibali it has got to be that stage to Blockhaus. Throughout this Giro he had the measure of Dumoulin in the mountains, but not that day. Whether it was a bad day or he had yet to find his best form, I don’t know, but he lost 36 seconds to Dumoulin. Throw in the four second time bonus and that’s 40 seconds. Nibali finished exactly 40 seconds behind Big Tom in the end. Fine margins, as I said.

Another man who will look back to that day to Blockhaus with wonder is Geraint Thomas. He was part of that big crash that took down half his team and forced him to abandon a few days later. The following stage in the time-trial he lost only 49 seconds to Dumoulin. He would have fancied his chances alongside the Dutchman in the mountains. That’s what he will believe at least. Some will suggest Thomas is unproven over three weeks as a team leader, but so too was Dumoulin until a few years ago. We won’t know until Thomas goes again. Next year, I hope.

Some will also say that Quintana rode this Giro at only 90 percent; hoping to sneak the win and carry better form into the Tour. Much like how he carried form into last years Vuelta. I guess we’ll find out when we see what kind of form he turns up with in France come July, but it’s hard to know. You’d think if the double was a realistic ambition he’d have shown up with all guns blazing, because as it is, the double is lost now. Then again, Quintana, for all the hype, flattered to deceive in the high mountains. His only stage win came at Blockhaus and even that day his big attack only took 24 seconds out of Dumoulin.

But let’s not take anything away from Dumoulin. He did what he had to do and did it well. He took time in the time-trials, but he was far from static otherwise. He attacked stage 14 and won. And in dropping his shorts on stage 16 he tightened the battle and kept this race wide open right up until the final day. For that we have to be grateful as in hindsight it was now clear: On paper he didn’t even need a second time-trial. But thank goodness Grand Tours aren’t raced on paper.

Final general classification

1. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) in 90h34’54”

2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @ 31″

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) @ 40″

4. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) @ 1’17”

5. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) @ 1’56”

Best young rider: Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors)

Points classification: Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)

Mountains classification: Mikel Landa (Sky)

Team classification: Movistar

Quintana grabs pink but will need more time

By the time I tuned into the Giro d’Italia today – and by tune in I mean logged onto Twitter, as well as a live blog – I had missed the ambush. It had been a busy morning for me and while I knew there was a summit finish, I kind of overlooked anything that might happen before. In a way, I felt ambushed.

By all accounts the pink jersey of Tom Dumoulin got distanced on a descent and the teams of Nibali and Quintana put the hammer down. It all came to nothing in the end as a frantic chase ensued that brought it all back together. Even the days initial break was no more. What it did serve to do was soften up the legs of Big Tom who began to lose contact the moment they hit the final climb to Piancavallo.

Doing as he does best though, Dumoulin didn’t panic. He settled into his rhythm and set about limiting his loses. The GC will tell you he had a 31 second advantage over Quintana to play with. In reality, with the final day time-trial still to come, that advantage was more like 2 minutes. By the end of the day Dumoulin would lose 1 minute 9 seconds, and his pink jersey, to Quintana.

Up ahead of him the group of rivals vying for Dumoulin’s blood, stuck together. For the most part, that is. Thibaut Pinot was an exception. The Frenchman has been very aggressive lately and it’s been to his benefit. He attached again and while he only took a handful of seconds today, he has closed to within a minute of Quintana overall. Nibali lost a couple of seconds but he himself is only 43 seconds in arrears.

Further up the road a break had formed containing stage hunters no longer linked to the general classification. The usual names were present: Pierre Rolland and Mikel Landa. Has there been a break through this whole race that hasn’t included one of them? It doesn’t feel like it. The past two days had seen some very deserving stage winners. Rolland was finally rewarded for his many efforts with a win on stage 17, giving Cannondale-Drapac their second World Tour win in 10 days after Andrew Talansky won at the Tour of California. This after the team had gone over two years without a win at the elite level. The following day Tejay Van Garderen restored some much needed confidence with a stage win of his own. And so today another man joined them: Landa. The Sky man seen his GC ambitions end with that crash on the road to Blockhaus on stage 9 and turned to targeting stage wins. He has had two second place finishes already, having led out two, two-up sprints, losing both. Today though he went solo, saving the worry of a sprint and instead enjoying the moment with his arms in the air.

Tomorrow marks the final day in the mountains. It’s not quite a summit finish, but it may as well be. For Quintana, Nibali and Pinot, they’re going to need to hurt Dumoulin again. The Colombian needs another minute, but at the very least he needs to soften Dumoulin’s legs so come the time-trial the Dutchman isn’t quite so potent. That said he might also need to worry about Pinot and Nibali. Both can time-trial better. They may shed Dumoulin, but if either can put a little extra time into Quintana tomorrow, they could yet leapfrog him in the time-trial to win the Giro on the final day.

What for a while was looking like a runaway win for Dumoulin on the day he took his impromptu bathroom break, before becoming a two man race, now appears almost to be a four way fight for the top prize in Milan. That will make for a riveting weekend of viewing. I can only hope I find a way to actually watch it and not rely completely on social media!

General classification after stage 19

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 85h2’40”

2. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) @ 38″

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) @ 43″

4. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) @ 53″

5. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) @ 1’21”

6. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) @ 1’30”

Dumoulin drops from the rear, in more ways than one!

It was the stage that when they unveiled the 2017 Giro route, everyone got excited about. The queen stage. A trip over the Passo Del Mortirolo and two runs up the Passo Dello Stelvio. The day of reckoning. The most dramatic day when, for some, the shit would hit the fan…or, as it turned out, the side of the road.

It was to be a long day in the saddle; a slow wearing down process. The suffering would build and the elastic would snap and the time gaps would be enormous. Many considered it a day for Tom Dumoulin to limit his loses, but the manor on which he had to do so was unusual to say the least.

At the foot of the days final climb, he stopped, climbed off and lowered his shorts. When you need to go, you need to go, as they say. Dumoulin couldn’t control his bowels any longer. As he done his number two, the race moved up the mountain. It left fans debating the rights and wrongs of the racing going on without him, but they didn’t have any choice. Waiting was not realistic. In that moment, Steve Kruijswijk was in a break almost two minutes further up the road. A threat to the top five.

Waiting for a rider following a freak crash is one thing. So is waiting for a call of nature with 100km still to go. But when you’re on the run-in and the race is on, all bets are off. If you wait for Dumoulin because he had a weak stomach today, do you wait for someone else who has weak legs tomorrow? If Nibali pulls up with cramp on the final climb tomorrow, do we debate whether they wait? These three week Grand Tours are a full body effort; a test of physical and mental conditioning. It works the mind, the heart, the lungs, the immune system and the digestive system. Fatigue plays a part. Dumoulin’s issue may be part of a greater suffering, or it could be a freak incident, but either way the race is one of attrition.

It’s the same as when someone crashes. If it’s at a key moment and the crash is their own error, then why should anyone wait? Fatigue could cause that crash. It’s one thing if a fan steps out and takes a man down, but if he overshoots a corner by going too fast? And even a mechanical is part of the game in my mind. That isn’t to say I enjoyed what happened, indeed I’d quite like to see Dumoulin win this Giro, but this is a race and as the old cliche goes, when the race is on, it’s on.

The condition of Dumoulin will be fascinating to follow, though it does appear to be a one-off. He flew up the final climb and limited his loses to Quintana to 2 minutes 6 seconds come the finish. The Colombian himself finished 12 seconds behind stage winner Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian attacked near the top of the final climb bringing Quintana, Ilnur Zakarin and Domenico Pozzovivo with him. On the descent he moved clear of the rest, bridging across to the final man from the break, Mikel Landa. In the two-up sprint the Italian had the legs and he gave his country their first stage win of the race so far. Such a result will settle nerves among the restless natives who will now hope their hero can push on to challenge for the pink jersey. A late run to glory in the Giro worked well for the shark last year. The upshot on the general classification is that Dumoulin’s lead in the pink jersey is now down to a mere 31 seconds. Nibali is at 1 minute 12 seconds.

If anything Dumoulin’s poop-gate adds a further layer of intrigue to this Giro. He will be angry that they didn’t wait, while Quintana will see an opportunity. Dumoulin has looked so good thus far that the lead he had amassed was beginning to look unassailable. Now it’s all up for grabs again. But with a time-trial still to come, that 31 second lead he has on paper might well be good for about 2 minutes in theory. So Quintana still has a lot of attacking to do.

Standings after stage 16:

1. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) in 70h14’48”

2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @ 31″

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) @ 1’12”

4. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) @ 2’38”

5. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) @ 2’40”

6. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) @ 3’5″

A word on the weekend: Dumoulin increases his lead

It was a long weekend here and I was out of town. And I was riding my bike. As such I didn’t write anything about the weekend stages of the Giro as they happened. But the major talking point was Tom Dumoulin taking a stage win on Saturday when many felt he might lose time. I walked into a coffee shop mid-ride and got the race on my phone right on time for the final climb. It looked trouble for Big Tom when Nairo Quintana attacked, but the Dutchman did what he does so well and measured his effort. Soon the gap began to reduce and soon he had bridged across. On the run-in he was strongest and finished ahead of Zakarin for stage glory. Quintana coughed up 14 seconds in 4th place. With time-bonuses factored in, Dumoulin increased his lead in the general classification to 2 minute 47 seconds. Not a good sign for his rivals and a real psychological blow on a day they were expected to eat into the Dutchmans so-called time-trial bonus-time.

Shades of Big Mig in Big Tom

The ex-footballer Gary Lineker once said, “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” I felt the same about the Tour de France in the early 90s. 198 men rode around France for 3 weeks and in the end, Miguel Indurain always won. He did so by sitting tight in a first week that belonged to the sprinters, demolishing his rivals in the time-trials, and preserving in the mountains.

Which brings me to the 2017 Giro and from Big Mig to Big Tom. Tom Dumoulin that is. The majority of the first week here belonged to sprinters or opportunists too. There was the ride up Etna, but that never exploded like the Volcano can. Then there was the finish at Blockhaus, but Tom limited his losses. He rode steady and measured his effort. And finally, ala Indurain, on the first time-trial, he blew away the rest to set up his bid for glory.

His time-trial was the stuff of brilliance. Only four men finished within 2 minutes of him. Many expected him to recover the time he lost on Blockhaus but nobody though he could demolish the rest in this manor. By not busting a gut to try and stay with Quintana on that climb, but rather keeping it steady and limiting his loses, it’s clear that Dumoulin was thinking of the time-trial. Deep down he knew if he could maintain his discipline on that climb, he would have enough left to put in a huge effort the following day.

And it was testament to the form of Geraint Thomas that he finished second, 49 seconds behind Dumoulin. And a shame that he crashed at such a crucial time at the foot of Blockhaus. How well he could have gone without that crash we’ll never know. But assuming he would have been in the sharp end of proceedings, then you have to figure that with this effort in the time-trial he might well have been Dumoulin’s nearest rival.

As it is though, Dumoulin has built built a sizable gap in the standings, He will now look to preserve it. And with another time-trial to come, the 2 minutes 23 second advantage he has over Nairo Quintana could in fact be good for 4-5 minutes when you factor it in. Quintana, who carried a 30 second lead into the time-trial, had it decimated. Dumoulin took 4.35 seconds per kilometre out of the Colombian over the 39.8km course. The final time-trial into Milan is 29.3km in length, and at that pace it could be good for an extra 2’07”.

There are a lot more factors to this, of course, but the idea of these time gaps will now be in the back of Quintana’s head. He will have to attack early and often now to try claw the time back and build a further buffer.  Such a scenario is mouth watering and could make this race. Before this weekend this Giro was struggling to come to life but Big Tom trying to be Big Mig and Quintana trying to play the climbing foil is a mouth watering prospect.

General Classification after stage 10

1. Tom Dumpoulin (Subweb) in 42h57’16”

2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @ 2’23”

3. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) @ 2’38”

4. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) @ 2’40”

5. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) @ 2’47”

Sky taken out while it’s advantage Quintana…or is it?

It took eight stages for this Giro to come to life, but once it did, it did so in the most dramatic of ways. Drama, controversy, action, time gaps, lead change and so many talking points it is hard to know where to begin. Do I start with the stage winner and new race leader, Nairo Quintana? Or the fact his win wasn’t as convincing as expected? Or with the motorbike induced accident at the foot of the Blockhaus climb that left several contenders on the deck, decimating Team Sky’s Giro ambitions?

The later is the logical starting point. It was after all the most dramatic moment, the one that raised the most debate, and the one that came first. Why the police motorbike felt the need to stop at the side of the road I’m not sure, but why he didn’t pull off the road I’ll never know. The result was Wilko Kelderman of the Sunweb team clipped the motorbike rider and went down taking many riders with him.

When the dust cleared, Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa were both a part of the rubble as the race moved up the road and with it their Giro aspirations. Debate began to rage almost immediately about the rights and wrongs of the incident as well as the reaction of Movistar. Nairo Quintana’s team continued to push on the front while many felt they should have waited. I am not one of those many. If this happened 100km from the finish it might be one thing, but it was at the foot of the final climb. If they had been hiding in the pack all day but reacted to this crash by pushing to the front, that would be another thing. The reality was that Movistar had been pushing on the front for quite a while before the crash. Their strategy was well underway and their reward for being at the front was staying clear of any potential crash, regardless of who was to blame. How many rivals were beginning to hurt at the pressure they had been putting on? By easing off, those riders would have gotten a chance to recover. Indeed, had they waited and had the Thomas, Landa, Kelderman and Adam Yates got back on, would they have been able to compete given the hard falls they took? Landa looked hurt and lost a load of time. There was no guarantee the others could go with the move Quintana later forced. The race was on as Movistar suggested after the race and even Thomas admitted to this himself.

So yes, Quintana did force a move but to which only Thibaut Pinot and Vincenzo Nibali could react. A short way behind the Dutch duo of Tom Dumoulin and Bauke Mollema stuck to their own rhythm. Nibali soon cracked and when Quintana surged again he got rid of Pinot.

It seemed here that Quintana would go on to win the Giro. Seconds would turn into minutes and he would build the kind of gap that no time-trial could threaten. I feared for the rest. But behind Dumoulin kept ticking over. Soon he caught and dropped Nibali and then he rode up to Pinot. The Dutchman didn’t panic when he seen the attacks…he knew he couldn’t go with them. Instead he played the Chris Froome tactic and rode to his own power numbers. Say what you like about these devices being in races, they all have one. And while they’re allowed it’s the smart rider who knows how to interpret the data in real time. It’s the patient rider who doesn’t see the wheel in front distance him and panic by trying to go with it. Instead Dumoulin got into time-trial mode, his best mode, and set about limiting the damage.

And limit it he did. Yes, Quintana won the stage and took a 10 second time bonus with it, but Pinot and Dumoulin came home next only 24 seconds behind. Mollema was at 41 seconds; Nibali at a minute. All will feel they limited their losses well. Quintana will feel a level of confidence in getting the win, but the lack of time put into those behind him will also inspire those rivals.

Tomorrow is a rest day but Tuesday’s time trial should see Quintana cough up his advantage from today and then some. Still, Quintana is playing the longer gain. His hope will be to limit his loses as Dumoulin did today, though his target loss will likely be more than 24 seconds, and then bite back in the high mountains. There is a lot of climbing to come and Quintana will once again need to go the attack as there is yet another time-trial on the final day in Milan. Quintana will tell you that he’s riding into form in this race and that his best is very much to come. That could be true and might be explained in those 24 seconds, but the likes of Nibali might claim the same. The Shark will very much be hoping his best is ahead on what looks to be a brutal final week of climbing.

So while on paper you might say advantage Quintana, I actually think it’s advantage Dumoulin and it’s still wide open for half-a-dozen in this race.

One for the grand kids

Luka Pibernik crossed the line yesterday with his arms in the air to win the fifth stage of the Giro d’Italia. A proud moment for the 23 year old who must have though he had made it two Solvenian stage wins in-a-row. The reality was very different. There was still 6km, or one lap, to go. It was that cringe worthy moment when somebody thinks they have won, while everyone else knows otherwise.

Somewhere in the throws of exhaustion Pibernik failed to hear the last lap bell. He failed to grasp why the pack behind were not sprinting full out as he thought he’d outwitted them all. The arms went up as he crossed the line and the pack swallowed him up and kept on racing.

Or was he as unaware as you think?

You see this has happened before and I have this theory that more often than not the rider knows fine well. But he also knows he isn’t going to survive alone for another lap and so he throws the arms up anyway. He knows his chances of a Grand Tour stage win is unlikely, but this image, once the mocking has stopped and the memory faded, will last forever. A picture to show the grandchildren one day. “I didn’t actually win kids, but isn’t this a pretty picture anyway?” Or by then I suppose he might well tell everyone that he did win.

But even if my theory is wrong, for one short moment, Luka Pibernik got to experience the feeling of winning a Grand Tour stage. None of us, not even many of his fellow pros, will ever get to experience that.

As it turns out it was Fernando Gavaria who actually won, taking his second stage of the Giro in a bunch gallop. Pibernik was 148th. There was no major change in GC.