The Dutchman thanks the rival riders who helped him pull back time on the leading group including Nairo Quintana on stage 20 of the Giro d'Italia

Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) says that his rivals were not working for themselves, but for him en route to Asiago.

He is “forever thankful” that they kept Giro d’Italia leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) under control ahead of the final time trial stage in Milan on Sunday.

>>> Tom Dumoulin minimises time losses to set up final stage decider as Pinot wins Giro d’Italia stage 20

The Colombian in the pink jersey rode clear with Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), second and third in the classification, over the final climb.

Behind, Dumoulin had Adam Yates (Orica-Scott), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and above all, Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) pulling the group along to close at 15 seconds back and to keep him at a reasonable 53-second striking distance in the overall classification.

“I’m happy that I’m mentally and physically much better than yesterday,” Dumoulin said when returning to his team bus. “I’m forever thankful and grateful for the work Bauke Mollema, Bob Jungels and Adam Yates did for me today,”

“They were pretty much not really fighting any more for spots on GC because they are pretty much fixed in their spots on GC so it was also definitely to help me, so I’m very happy with that and very thankful.”

The Dutchman, second in the Olympic time trial behind Fabian Cancellara, rode 2-53 minutes into Quintana in the last 39.8-kilometre time trial on stage 10.

Tomorrow, he has 29.3 kilometres from the Monza Formula One track to the Duomo in Milan to make up 53 seconds on Quintana.

He needed to keep the gap small in today’s final mountain stage to make the leap feasible. Instead of attacking each other, Mollema, Yates and Jungles – seventh through ninth overall – rode together.

Pinot, Quintana, Nibali, Zakarin and Pozzovivo work together to drop Tom Dumoulin at the Giro d’Italia (Sunada)

Yates leads Jungles by a slim 28 seconds in the youth classification, a spot he will likely lose to the more talented time trialist from Luxembourg.

“I know Yates, Jungels and Mollema, the three of them, for a long time and we’ve always been good together and we just cooperated well.”

Dumoulin was asked to clarify if there was a Quintana/Nibali axis and one for him.

“The situation was just like that, they were riding for their GC and I was riding for mine, and the three guys helped me with that. That’s really nice of them.”

Earlier in the race, Nibali led attacks on the Stelvio stage when Dumoulin stopped to relieve himself due to stomach problems. Dumoulin said that he hoped Nibali and Quintana lost their podium spots for how they teamed together two days ago in stage 18.

Dumoulin now stands to become the first Dutchman to win the Giro d’Italia in its 100 years if he can pull back the time in the final time trial.

“I’m just going to focus to my own ride tomorrow, then we’ll see after the finish what it’s worth,” Dumoulin added.

“It could be possible, but after three weeks racing, after a hard week in the mountains like this, anything can happen,”

“I think everyone there are five guys aiming for the [overall] win and with possibilities to win, I think the five of us really have pressure and I just need to focus on my own ride.”