Tom Dumoulin took a big mental victory from saving the pink jersey on stage 16 at the Giro d’Italia, despite being “disappointed and angry” with himself when stomach problems almost ended his hopes at the race.
The Dutchman endured sickness on the first big mountain test of the final week of the race, and was forced to stop on the roadside for a natural break with the other GC riders continuing without him.
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Despite riding almost entirely solo to the finish to salvage the maglia rosa, his overall lead was cut drastically from 2-41 to 31 seconds over Nairo Quintana in second.
Dumoulin again retained the pink jersey in Canazei after a relatively sedate stage 17 for the main GC contenders, with the final three mountain stages of the race and the time trial in Milan looming.
“Yesterday [stage 16] was very important to have it [pink] mentally. Also today [was] a day in pink which is always nice.
“Yesterday I think especially the fact I almost didn’t lose any time chasing on my own, that is a big mental win. I’m happy to still be in pink,” Dumoulin said.
“I was very disappointed and angry with myself yesterday because I actually had good legs, and I think with my legs yesterday I would have been up there with [Vincenzo] Nibali [who won the stage] and Quintana on the top of the climb and I wouldn’t have lost any time. Then I would have had a big margin going into the last three mountain days.
“Now I lost my big margin because of a problem and not because I had a bad day. If I now get a bad day or bad legs in the coming days I will already lose it. Mentally that was the biggest problem about yesterday, the biggest setback.”
He admitted he felt cautious at the start of the day about what food to eat, but that he felt “completely” fine once he was riding.
“It was much better today, I was little bit insecure in the morning because I needed to eat bars and food in the race and I was a little bit worried if it would be OK, but it was completely fine,” Dumoulin continued.
“We don’t know exactly what the problem is but we have some ideas. I think it was a combination of a few things.
“I just have to be focussed and sharp on my food intake at the right moments, the right food, then I think we solve a lot of the problem.
Thursday’s stage 18 is a brute of a day, featuring five categorised climbs in 137 kilometres — the first coming almost straight from the start line — and a summit finish into Ortesei.
With a 28 kilometre time trial in Milan to end the race, where TT specialist Dumoulin would be expected to take more time out of climbers such as Quintana, the chances of his rivals attacking him in the remaining mountainous days is high.
He said he and his Sunweb team had learned a few lessons from the 2015 Vuelta a España, where he wore the red leader’s jersey but was dropped on the last penultimate climb of the race on stage 20 and conceded the overall victory to Fabio Aru.
“We have a very strong team here, maybe not the strongest. Maybe we could have done it better in the Vuelta and have learned a few lessons that we need to keep being smart and keep riding smart, and in the coming days we will try to do that,” he said.