Dumoulin holds on… to the maglia rosa
And that was about all he could hold on to, as nature called at the most inopportune time for Giro d’Italia race leader Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) as the GC group sped on towards and up the final climb of the Umbrail Pass.
It was then down to the big Dutchman (with no teammates left) to chase on to the leaders up the mountain or see his grip on the maglia rosa slip after he’d look so strong in previous stages.
Whether or not the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) should have waited (see point two), Dumoulin made a good show of it with around 20km remaining, holding the gap to around a minute for a substantial time before the effort began to bite.
Let’s not forget, the riders had already taken in an ascent of the Mortirolo and the Stelvio Pass from Bormio on the 222km stage, so it was no surprise when Dumoulin began to see his energy stores begin to fail him.
He crested the final climb with around 2-10 to Nibali and Quintana who were out front just behind breakaway rider Mikel Landa, and continued to look tentative on the descent.
Still, it was monumental effort to ride in to the finish with 2-18 lost on Nibali and 2-06 on Quintana to just hold on to the lead by 31 seconds.
Dumoulin looked bitterly disappointed at the end of the stage, but considering the circumstances and still with stages left to make up time in this race, he might reflect that it was a damn sight better than it could have been.
Should they have waited?
The big question.
Dumoulin was commended for waiting for his closest rival Quintana when he crashed on a descent during stage 15, but the courtesy wasn’t reciprocated as Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) along with Quintana and Nibali pushed on up the climb while Dumoulin stripped off.
It’s courtesy for the peloton to slow in normal circumstances when the race leader decides to take a natural break on the roadside, but that usually happens early on in the day and with more than one rider taking the opportunity.
The incident will continue to polarise the debate about whether riders should wait for the competitors or not. Cycling is largely about tradition, and a Grand Tour leader’s jersey would in the past command enough respect for overall contenders to wait for the race leader before going mano a mano.
But that tradition appears to be slipping under the weight of the ‘win-at-all-costs’ aspect of modern sport. It is a race after all, but the idea of waiting will be continue to be a hot topic as it has for many years already.
Watch: Giro d’Italia stage 16 highlights
The Italians can finally celebrate
The 100th Giro really couldn’t go the full three weeks without an Italian win could it?
Of course not, and it was Italian cycling’s favourite son that managed to right that wrong, attacking with Nairo Quintana a few kilometres ahead of the summit of the Umbrail Pass, before using those killer descending skills to slip away from the Colombian and catch lone leader Mikel Landa (Team Sky).
Defending champion Nibali had entered this final week realistic about his chances in the overall after an underwhelming couple of weeks so far for him. But he timed his move perfectly at the top of the climb before another impressive descent, and stuck to Landa’s wheel perfectly to give him the edge in the final sprint for the line.
He only took it by the narrowest of margins on the line after a long and brutal day out in the mountains, but it was enough and a reason for the tifosi to be cheerful going into the final stages, with Nibali now well back in the running for a third career overall win.
Agonisingly close for Landa
The guy can’t quite catch a break.
He found himself with three teammates in the 2o-man plus breakaway group on the queen stage, and rode all the remaining stage hopefuls off his wheel as they ascended the Umbrail Pass, including Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo).
Having already been first over the Stelvio to take the Cima Coppi of thus year’s race, the Basque had only around 10 seconds over Umbrail ahead of Nibali and Quintana.
There wasn’t much he could do to hold off the peloton’s best descender in Nibali on the road down to Bormio, but he did well to muster the energy to hold onto the Italian as they descended.
He led through the curves of the final kilometre with Nibali on his wheel, and it was a tired sprint between the pair ahead of the line.
Landa missed out on a third career stage victory at the Giro by half a wheel and banged his handlebars in frustration at the near-miss.
He now leads the King of the Mountains competition, which will be of little consolation, but looks in great form ahead of more stages suited to his strengths in the remaining days.
A great tribute to Michele Scarponi
The organisers fittingly paid tribute to the late Michele Scarponi atop the Mortirolo, and it was a true show of sportsmanship that the likes of Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), keen to claim the Giro mountains jersey, let Scarponi’s former Astana team-mate Luis Leon Sanchez take the maximum double points on the summit.
It was a solemn moment in an otherwise brutal day at the Giro d’Italia, and shows that sportsmanship is still alive and well.