Tom Dumoulin finally cracks
This wasn’t an attack during a nature break, this was race leader Tom Dumoulin properly suffering to try and hold his lead on the final 15km climb to Piancavallo.
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The Dutchman has impressed, particularly on stage 18, with the way he’s stuck to the purer climbers on the steep stuff, but this was one too far.
The steep gradients, up to 14 per cent, on Piancavallo meant Dumoulin was dropped relatively early on the climb with Vincenzo Nibali‘s Bahrain-Merida team-mate Franco Pellizotti setting a ferocious pace.
Dumoulin tried to perform his normal tactic of pacing himself back to the group, and did a decent job in holding it to around 20-30 seconds for much of the way up.
But the increases in pace up front put paid to that and Dumoulin looked spent as he reached the flatter closing kilometre, attempting to drain every ounce of energy to get to the line to avoid losing his pink jersey.
He ended losing over minute to his main rivals though, and now sits second on GC, 38 seconds behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and just five seconds ahead of Nibali. It’s all set up beautifully though for a showdown on Saturday’s final mountain stage and Sunday’s final time trial.
Nibali and Quintana keep quiet
Though they both improved their GC standings, and in Quintana’s case moved into the race lead, neither looked in peak form on the final climb with very little attacking.
Nibali’s team set the high pace, but they weren’t able to shake the likes of Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) among others. Moreover, Tom Dumoulin’s loss looked more because of his own legs rather than anyone putting in a sensational ride.
Nibali had a little dig of his own, which put Nairo Quintana in trouble briefly, but nothing looked like it was sticking.
Colombian Quintana particularly didn’t look like he was eyeing any kind of attack. Perhaps it’s the week of brutal mountain stages and simply the difficulty of stage 19’s final climb that held everyone back.
Either way, Thursday night’s trash talking between Dumoulin, Nibali and Quintana has definitely gone in the latter pair’s favour. Though neither can take today’s gains for granted, particularly with that final time trial on Sunday, and should look to gain more time on Dumoulin in Saturday’s last mountain stage.
Pinot takes more time
Frenchman Pinot took a bit of extra time after attacking late on the final climb of stage 18, and took another 10 seconds or so on his rivals to throw his name into the hat for an overall win.
The only rider to actually get away solo among the GC contenders, Pinot looked strong as he inched his way away to gain a handful of seconds, and now sits just 10 seconds away from Nibali in fourth place on GC.
It might have been all about Nibali, Quintana and Dumoulin so far this week, but Pinot is now a serious threat to the overall with his potential time trial gains.
The French time trial champion didn’t perform well in the longer TT on stage 10, finishing down in 19th place 2-42 down on Dumoulin. But if he can perform like he has in recent years over the Monza to Milan TT, he can potentially thrust himself at least onto the podium.
Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) has done something similar, grabbing a handful of seconds on stage 19. He also sits just off the podium at 1-12 from Quintana, and can perform strongly in time trials when he needs to.
Landa finally gets it
Chapeau to Mikel Landa, who has tried and tried again to make up for missing out on GC in this race with a stage win.
After the confusing start to stage 19 (see below), the decisive break went on the second categorised climb of the day and Landa wasn’t in it.
He eventually was able to work his way across in a second group and was fortunate to have team-mate Sebastian Henao in the there to support him.
It’s something Sky have done well since Geraint Thomas abandoned the race and all GC hopes disappeared. Landa has had team-mates to help with breakaway efforts and it meant he’s looked freshest on the final climbs despite missing out in the sprints.
But the Basque timed his move perfectly on Piancavallo to avoid any need for sprinting, catching lone leader Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) with 10km to go and almost immediately dropping him.
Landa then climbed so strongly that he had almost two minutes on Costa and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) behind, and effectively wrapped up the KOM jersey with that victory.
Despite the crash on Blockhaus ruining Sky’s dreams of finally winning the Giro overall, Landa has rescued something for the British team at the race, and has really impressed during this final week.
A confusing start
Was Tom Dumoulin peeing when he got dropped? No-one seemed sure. Some were saying Bahrain and Movistar had attacked while the race leader stopped for a natural break, but whatever had happened, Dumoulin found himself having to make a huge effort to get back on during the early part of the race.
Dumoulin confirmed post-race that it was simply a ‘rookie error’ that had seen him miss the split on the descent of the first categorised climb of the day, but that definitely didn’t help his bad legs he appeared to be having.
Nonetheless, it definitely feels that there’s been enough talk about Tom Dumoulin’s toilet habits for one bike race.