Dumoulin and Sunweb pass the first test
After displaying the kind of post-rest day form on stage 10’s time trial that every rider dreams of, Tom Dumoulin and his Sunweb team-mates were chucked into the deep end on their first day defending pink.
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The make-up of the stage would present far from straightforward racing, and despite bolstering during the winter, the Sunweb line-up (particularly with the loss of Wilco Kelderman) doesn’t look the strongest on paper.
So there were question marks over just how well they’d be able to stamp authority on the race, particularly with Movistar keen to find time wherever they can to help Nairo Quintana.
But Sunweb managed to get Laurens Ten Dam into the main break, and that was important in making sure Movistar’s Andrey Amador wasn’t able to gain much time.
The Sunweb domestiques also did a decent job in controlling the gap from the front of the bunch, but Dumoulin found himself isolated when Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) pressed on on the final climb.
He was able to manage that threat though, and as that group of GC contenders pushed on, Ten Dam was able to drop from the break in front and help his leader to the line to maintain the overall lead.
Dumoulin will now just have to safely navigate two sprint stages before the next mountain test on stage 14, where the lightweight climbers will surely test his resolve once again on the summit finish.
Omar Fraile’s epic ride
The Dimension Data rider made his way into the day’s main break when it finally went away, and after that, spent much of the day out front with just Mikel Landa (Team Sky) for company.
When they were both brought back to the chase group behind, you wouldn’t blame them both for just saving energy for another day and heading back to the peloton.
But Fraile did a perfect job of settling back in to the break before making a well timed move on the final climb to catch Pierre Rolland (Cannondale) and take the KOM points as well as put a big gap to the breakaway group.
With a circa 20km descent to the finish, it was a crucial time to get away and it looked for a while that it would be between him and Frenchman Rolland.
But when Rui Costa eventually made it across and then Tanel Kangert in the final 2km, the odds began to stack against the Spaniard after the energy he’d spent throughout the day.
But he launched his sprint first and jumped ahead of everyone and put in an impressive turn of speed after such a brutal day out.
It was a well deserved victory for Fraile, who takes his first Grand Tour stage win and Dimension Data’s first at the Giro.
More losses for Thomas
If Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) was looking to gradually creep his way back to a high placing in GC over the next two weeks, then today was another blow to those hopes.
Every second counts at this point and it was another 48 seconds gone after he was unable to close the gap when Nibali attacked on the final climb.
Both Thomas and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) were then always fighting to stay in touch with the maglia rosa group, but they couldn’t quite get back on before the finish.
The Welshman already sat 5-33 down on Dumoulin before the stage start, and could be reaching the point where a searching for a stage win could be a better consolation prize than a top-10 on GC.
Still, there’s plenty more mountain stages to come, but any time made up all depends on how Thomas has recovered from Sunday’s crash and his efforts in the stage 10 time trial.
That looked hard
A lot of riders went out the back today.
The sprinters were straight out on the first climb of the 161km stage, with riders up front constantly attacking to try and form the breakaway.
It was up and down all day, and only the strongest were going to survive here.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC) was the only rider with GC hopes who really capitulated, losing 21 minutes, but the four difficult climbs on the route really made it touch and go for those trying to make the time cut.
Jakub Mareczko was one such sprinter who was struggling to stay with the gruppetto, with six of his Wilier-Triestina teammates apparently set back to try and help him to the finish in time.
Luckily, everyone made it in time.Needless to say, most riders out there will welcome a slightly easier couple of days coming up.
Still no victory for Cannondale or the Italians
Ok it’s not been as long for the Italians as Cannondale-Drapac have had to wait, but the home fans would have been looking to Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Dario Cataldo (Astana) and Simone Petilli (UAE Team Emirates) to try and finish the job after they made it into the break.
But Visconti was the highest placed with fifth, and with two sprint stages coming up and Italian champion Giacomo Nizzolo now heading home, it looks like they’ll have to hedge their bets on the upcoming mountains stages for a win.
Likewise for Cannondale, who came agonisingly close to ending their two-year wait for a WorldTour victory.
Pierre Rolland looked strong in the break out front, but could do nothing to stop Fraile and Costa in the end and had to settle for third place.