The Dutchman, leading the race by 2-41 minutes over Nairo Quintana (Movistar), suddenly stopped with 32km left on stage 16, pulled down his shorts and squatted on the green grass.
As Dumoulin was climbing back on Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) attacked and the group slowed. However the easing of the pace didn’t last long before more attacks came by Quintana and eventual stage winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
“We respected Dumoulin when he had his problem, but other teams made their own race. It’s cycling,” Quintana said. “He was a gentleman with me [two days ago], we tried to respect him.”
The group never allowed him to rejoin and Dumoulin lost 2-18, keeping his lead by only 31 seconds over his Colombian rival.
Riders argued that the escape group ahead with Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) threatened the general classification too much to back off for Dumoulin.
“There was a moment of slowing but then there was the hill to climb,” Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) said while coughing and catching his breath in the high Alpine mountains.
“But yeah, there was some fair play on the part of Movistar who could’ve pulled straight away and didn’t, in a way they paid back the favour from the other day.
“It wouldn’t have been possible for them to wait until he returned, the race was that climb in the end, if we didn’t make the final climb hard, then there’s no show.”
Watch: Giro d’Italia stage 16 highlights
Vincenzo Nibali added, “at the start we did wait a bit but there was an important escape with Kruijswijk and we couldn’t wait much longer.”
“This is always very hard to judge, there are race situations when you have a stage of 220km and you’re entering the last climb, it’s always hard to say wait or not to wait,” Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) added. “Especially if you have teams pulling.
“Sometimes that’s racing and I’m convinced that he’ll come back the next days as strong as he was before.”
The Giro d’Italia restarted today in the hills above Bergamo, in Rovetta, after its second rest day. The race climbed the Mortirolo and the Stelvio twice. Dumoulin appeared well until the television showed him pulling frantically to the right, unzipping his pink top and pulling down his shorts.
“No, I don’t think [Movistar should’ve waited],” Dumoulin said. “The chase was on and you cannot give Kruijswijk three minutes, so it’s a difficult situation.
“I heard that Movistar waited a bit, but the race was already on, and they were chasing the break with Kruijswijk, so I can’t see them waiting and giving Kruijswijk three minutes.”
Dumoulin now must defend a slim 31-second margin over the coming days against Quintana, who is stronger in the mountains. He may enjoy a slightly easier day on Wednesday, but on Thursday the race covers several 2000m passes in the Dolomites. In his favour, the Giro d’Italia ends in Milan with a 29.3km time trial.