By Gregor Brown
Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) tried hard to topple Chris Froome (Team Sky) and his pink jersey lead in the Giro d'Italia's last mountain stage, but ultimately found there was nothing he could do to dislodge the maglia rosa.
Dumoulin trailed behind Froome by only 40 seconds heading into stage 20, the final testing stage before the flat Rome finish on Sunday. The Dutchman and winner of the 2017 Giro d'Italia, launched around five times in the closing five kilometres.
Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) won the stage from an escape. Dumoulin finished 6-03 minutes behind, with Froome still at his side.
"I have no regrets," Dumoulin said.
"I'm super proud of the team and myself. This is what it is: second overall. There was nothing I could to beat Chris Froome.
"I'd have blamed myself if I hadn't tried. I was just tired today but I tried everything I had. Froome was the better rider."
Dumoulin has been consistently second best in the Giro d'Italia since it left Jerusalem. The world champion won the opening time trial and started the 2018 race how he wished to finish it: in pink. The next day, Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) took over in the jersey, then Simon Yates on Mount Etna.
However, Dumoulin remained a threat to the overall standings as the race rode from south to north, and east to west in the Alpine mountains. Even Froome's masterstroke in stage 19, an 80-kilometre escape, could not distance Dumoulin by far.
Sam Oomen, as he has over the three weeks, led Dumoulin to his final push. Each time Dumoulin accelerated, Froome had an answer.
"I was so tired, so totally spent. I had nothing left in the tank," Dumoulin said.
"But I couldn't have forgiven myself if I hadn't at least tried. I tried it as hard and as many times as I could. It just wasn't possible.
"But I'm super proud of myself. I was one of the best climbers, but I wasn't the best. Froome was stronger."
Froome will be crowned the race's first British winner near the Colosseum in Sunday with an expected sprint finish. Dumoulin last year became the first Dutchman to win by conquering the time trials and defending himself superbly in the mountains against Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
This year, Dumoulin failed to gain so much time in the long 34.2-kilometre time trial that opened the third week. He had hoped for more time, and to take over the race lead from Yates, but said the ride had not been his best.
"The course overall was so much harder this year," Dumoulin added.
"But it's easier to be an attacker than to be a defender. Being in pink meant a lot of extra stress last year. It's really difficult to carry the pink.
"Look at Simon Yates. It's more comfortable to be the attacker. It was absurdly hard this year, but I've made it in the end."