Tim Wellens took a great win on the Giro d'Italia's first mountain stage but it was overshadowed by the battle for pink going on behind him
Welcome to the mountains
The first mountain stage of the Giro d’Italia is always something to get excited about. Not to say that the first five stages were boring, but the race really comes to life in the mountains.
The climbers get their first chance to flex their muscles and nowadays these early stages are a great opportunity to exploit any weaknesses in your rivals’ armour.
Like last year’s first summit finish, Thursday’s stage six was also won by a lesser fancied rider in a breakaway, with the GC contenders battling behind and opening up some early time gaps.
Tom Dumoulin‘s efforts up to Roccaraso have laid the marker for the rest of the Giro, with the rest of the guys now having to play catch-up for real.
Dumoulin’s a great bluffer
In every interview he’s done this year, Dumoulin has insisted he’s not in the Giro d’Italia for the general classification, but you wouldn’t think it judging by his attack on stage six.
He said before this stage that he didn’t expect to lose time, but by attacking off the peloton with three kilometres to go on quite a tough mountain Dumoulin proved that he’s no hanger-on in the climbs.
His attack wasn’t matched by Astana, Team Sky or Movistar – the three teams with real designs on the overall win – and even working as a large group the remains of the peloton couldn’t keep up with a three-man escape.
Astana got it right, but couldn’t capitalise
After two days of questioning certain teams’ tactics, Astana looked to get it right on the final mountain. Sending Jakob Fuglsang up the road with 13km to go to the summit gave the Kazakh team the opportunity to sit back and let others do the work.
The counter attack, it turned out, came from Nibali himself – speeding up with around 3.5km, just as many expected him to do. His rivals were quickly on him, though, catching him around 500m later and that’s when Dumoulin launched his move.
With Nibali going backwards into the group, Astana seemed unable to do anything and couldn’t use their crucial piece up the road, leaving Fuglsang to keep in control of Dumoulin’s move.
Fuglsang now sits second overall as Nibali came in down the field, but don’t expect to see another Tour de France 2015-like moment where Astana strip Nibali of the leadership because of one bad result. He’s in it for the long haul.
Landa seems to be struggling with the pace
Another man in it for the long haul is Sky’s Mikel Landa, but he’ll be hoping to find his feet in this race sooner rather than later.
Heading into the race, many picked out Landa as the man to beat after impressive perfomances in the mountainous Giro del Trentino.
But every time the road has pointed upwards in the Giro d’Italia so far Landa seems to have been struggling.
The Spaniard lost more seconds on stage six – four to Valverde and more than 20 to Dumoulin, but crucially he crossed the line with Nibali.
Landa will undoubtedly come into his own in the second and third week as the mountains come thick and fast, but the more time he loses in these early days, the more work he’ll need to do to get it back in the coming weeks.
Tim Wellens gets his prize for a great start to the season
It seems like every race that Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) has entered this season he’s made a move towards the end to try and win it.
He won the final stage of Paris-Nice ahead of a duelling Alberto Contador and Geraint Thomas and he made several late, but ultimately futile, attacks in the Ardennes Classics which could have stayed away.
Like at Paris-Nice, though, Wellens attacked out of the breakaway towards the foot of the mountain and stayed away for the next 15km to take his first Grand Tour stage win and only his seventh professional win ever.
It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s hilly or flat, Wellens always appears happy to have a dig at the end of a race to try and steal a win and that tactic seems to be working quite well for the Lotto-Soudal youngster.
He’s some way off the race lead at the Giro, so he could be allowed to go off the front again in future mountain stages and he most likely won’t disappoint if he does.