GIRO’17 St.21: Dumoulin Does It!

Giro Stage Report: Tom Dumoulin delivered a vintage performance in the Giro d’Italia’s final episode, a last gasp time trial between Monza and Milan, to grab hold of the fabled Maglia Rosa and become the first Dutchman to win the Tour of Italy.  The dominant Dutchman capitalized on his excellent defensive work in the Alps to put the climbers to the sword on the flat roads of Lombardy.

It had been billed as the time trial of the century, the grandest of grand finales, a thrilling four-man contest to decide the fate of the Maglia Rosa.  “Quatro uomini in 53 secondi!”, the Gazzetta dello Sport exclaimed.  This year’s Giro d’Italia had gone to the wire and was set to conclude with a high-stakes ‘corsa a cronometro’ between Monza and Milan.  A flat 29.3 kilometer course was now all that separated the contestants, who would set off one after another in three minute intervals, from the race’s traditional Grande Arrivo in the Lombard capital.

At the start, the overall leader, Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, held no more than a 39 second lead in the aggregate standings over second-placed Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, the defending champion, and to make matters worse France’s Thibaut Pinot—a man more than capable of excelling against the clock—lay in ambush, third with a deficit of only 43 seconds.  More worrying still, the Olympic silver medalist in the time trial discipline and long-time race leader, Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands, stood fourth in the General Classification, no more than 53 seconds adrift.  Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin, a former winner of the Tour of Switzerland, fifth overall and 1 minute 15 seconds back, could not be discounted either.

Leaving aside the Gazzetta‘s suspense-preserving headlines, Dumoulin did appear in the eyes of many the clear favorite to pull on pink in Milan.  Having limited his losses in the mountains, ‘the Butterfly of Maastricht’ could now look forward to an exercise perfectly tailored to his strengths.  In the Montefalco time trial on Stage 10, the Sunweb leader had pulverized the competition—finishing over two minutes ahead of Nibali and nearly three minutes ahead of Quintana—and while today’s test would take place over a slightly shorter distance there could be no doubting that his opponents faced an order nearly as tall as the colossal Dutchman himself.

Musical Chairs

The rays of a glorious May sun beamed down on the cathedral city of Monza as the athletes got ready to do battle in temperatures that flirted with 30°C.  Close to the starting area, ordinary ice cream-licking spectators mingled with passionate tifosi dressed in 1950s-style kit, complete with cotton jerseys and spare tires wrapped around the torso.  Team mechanics crossed paths and traded smirks, each persuaded that his own rider’s choice of equipment would prove more judicious than that of his peers.

At a quarter to two in the afternoon, the Tour of Italy’s tappa ventunesimo got under way, as the last-placed rider, Giuseppe Fonzi, set off under a shower of applause.  The Italian in the red, yellow and black of Wilier Triestina, delighted to be the first to depart, smiled radiantly and greeted the crowd in the manner of a showman.  Thereafter, each of the other remaining 162 riders prepared to leave separately in reverse order of standing, beginning with a lap of Monza’s Autodromo Nazionale race track and finishing on the marble of the Piazza del Duomo.  Many, unconcerned by the struggle for the Maglia Rosa, would ride at a leisurely pace and savor the rare luxury of riding alone into Milan, while others were determined to eke out every last ounce of what little strength they had left.

Marcin Bialoblocki (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) caught his minute man and set the best time early on with a performance of 34 minutes 12 seconds, but the Polish giant’s record did not stand long, as the Italian national time trial champion Manuel Quinziato (BMC) bettered it a few minutes later, finishing in a stellar 33 minutes 35 seconds.  The flying Dutchman Jos Van Emden (LottoNl-Jumbo) soon wiped the smile off Quinziato’s face, however, with a superb 33 minutes 8 seconds, a mark that would remain unbeaten for the rest of the afternoon.

The British had hoped that white would be the color for Adam Yates, the leader of the young riders’ rankings going into the ultimate stage, but sadly it was a white flag hoisted by the Orica leader as he ceded 1:26 and the coveted Maglia Bianca to his Luxembourgian challenger Bob Jungels. Had Yates not been cruelly felled on the road to the Blockhaus on Stage 9, however, the hierarchy among the race’s youths might have looked very different.

The Dutch Master
Four forty-seven PM.  A Goliath in the red, white and blue of the Netherlands slid down the ramp of the starting platform: Tom Dumoulin’s quest to become the first Dutchman to conquer the Giro d’Italia and avenge his compatriot Steven Kruijswijk’s near-miss last year had entered its final and decisive phase.

The square-jawed athlete from the Low Countries immediately settled into his characteristic aerodynamic position, prone on his futuristic bicycle.  You could have placed a cup of Cappuccino on his back at the start in Monza and picked it up again intact, full, and still warm in Milan.  Rear disc wheel, streamlined helmet, plexiglass visor, triathlete’s handlebars: all of the time trial specialist’s arcane paraphernalia were on display.

The Indurainesque champion had been advised by his manager Iwan Spekenbrink to go full tilt from start to finish and accelerate at the end, a strategy patiently elaborated by Sunweb’s sports scientists, and duly applied the formula.  Powering forward with a monstrous gear of 58×11, Dumoulin seemed to be delivering the Giro-winning performance the Dutch had hoped for, his smoothly shaved legs gyrating with maximum efficiency.  Stroke after stroke, the Dutch master perfected his piece, progressing along wide, straight and well-paved avenues at what could not have been a great deal slower than the speed of light.

When he crossed the finish line, all eyes turned to the clock, which indicated a time of 33 minutes and 23 seconds.  It was a satisfying figure, but would it be enough to wrest the Maglia Rosa from Quintana?  For Dumoulin, a nervous wait had begun.

Grimpeurs’ Graveyard

On the road, rivals Thibaut Pinot, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana pedaled away frantically but none could hope to match the Dutchman’s wacky wattage.

The Frenchman in the blue and white jersey emblazoned with four-leaved clovers soon discovered that this would not be his lucky day, and despite riding with the fervor of a sans-culottes slipped off the podium after producing a performance of 34 minutes 50 seconds.

Nibali fared better, holding his nerve to produce one of the finest time trials of his career.  ‘The Shark of Messina’, decked out in the red of Bahrain-Merida, had taken a page out of Dumoulin’s book, advancing in a fluid and gracious style devoid of any superfluous movement.  His face distorted by a grimace in the finest Commedia dell’arte tradition, the Sicilian made headway and at one time even looked capable of defending the title he had so sensationally conquered in the Alps last year.  But the course, mainly flat and straight, called for little technicality, demanding strength above all else.  And in that department, Nibali predictably fell short.  In Milan, he registered a time of 34 minutes and 17 seconds, only enough to take place on the third step of the podium.

Quintana, clad in pink from shoe to helmet, resisted as best he could but looked every bit a grimpeur out of his depth on the flat Lombard roads.  At the first time split, situated next to the Villa Reale, 8.8 kilometers in, ‘El Condor’ had already lost 31 seconds to his Dutch nemesis, and at the second, at Viale Italia, reached after 17.4 kilometers, that gap had increased to a minute.  The game was up.

The small climber from the Andes rushed through the last twelve kilometers faster than a Ferrari in a last-gasp effort to salvage his jersey, but with every passing second the notion that the Movistar maestro stood as much chance of holding onto the race lead as his hairdresser became more difficult to dispel.

Muscles screaming with pain, Quintana entered the home straight and sprinted to the line, only to receive the funereal news that his bid for a Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double had been derailed early by Dumoulin.  His effort was only good enough for second place, 31 seconds in arrears overall.  It seemed a preposterously small margin after over 3,600 kilometers of breathless racing, but for all his brilliance on the road up to the Blockhaus, the Colombian had undoubtedly payed the price for failing to set the race on fire on Mount Etna and a series of subdued performances in the Alps.

And so “the time trial of truth” had delivered its verdict, in the shadow of Milan’s magnificent  Duomo.  At the close of the hundredth edition of the Giro d’Italia, Dumoulin could don the Maglia Rosa one last time and for keeps after three weeks of the kind of drama that celebrated journalist and man of letters Dino Buzzati, the cantor of Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali’s great rivalry in the 1940s and 50s, would have relished narrating in the pages of the Corriere della Sera.

Spain’s Mikel Landa (Sky), the victor of Piancavallo, took home the King of the Mountains jersey, while Colombia’s swashbuckling sprinter Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), claimed the points classification.  And, remarkably, Australia’s Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) completed yet another Giro d’Italia, extending his surreal run of successive Grand Tours to seventeen.

2017 Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb): “It’s really crazy. I’ve won the Giro! It was such a nerve wrecking day. I needed to stay calm and I almost couldn’t. Luckily I had good legs and I just went for it. I didn’t want to know the time splits. My sport director was only supposed to tell me when to stop taking risks and he did it at half way already. When I crossed the line he told me I had won but when I looked at the TV screen I saw I only had three seconds lead and I panicked a bit. I was angry but eventually I pulled it off and I’m super happy.”

Stage winner Jos van Emden (LottoNl-Jumbo): “It’s unbelievable. I’m so happy and so emotional. I’ve come second in time trials too many times. This is the greatness of cycling. Finally I’ve won and it’s a big one. There are two really happy people here from the Netherlands. Yesterday I sent a message to Tom Dumoulin with the Maglia Rosa and he replied he’d hope we’d both be celebrating today and we are.”

Giro d’Italia Stage 21 Result:
1. Jos Van Emden (Ned) LottoNl-Jumbo in 33:08
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Sunweb at 0:15
3. Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC at 0:27
4. Vasil Kiryienka (Blr) Sky at 0:31
5. Joey Rosskopf (USA) BMC at 0:35
6. Jan B‡rta (Cze) Bora-Hansgrohe at 0:39
7. Georg Preidler (Aut) Sunweb at 0:51
8. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors at 0:54
9. Jan Tratnik (Slo) CCC Sprandi Polkowice at 0:57
10. Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar at 1:02
11. Marcin Bialoblocki (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice at 1:04
12. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
13. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 1:09
14. Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) FDJ
15. Michael Hepburn (Aus) Orica-Scott at 1:13
16. Stef Clement (Ned) LottoNl-Jumbo at 1:14
17. Chad Haga (USA) Sunweb at 1:16
18. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) LottoNl-Jumbo at 1:17
19. Silvan Dillier (Swi) BMC
20. Svein Tuft (Can) Orica-Scott at 1:18
21. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 1:21
22. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo at 1:31
23. Ruben Plaza (Spa) Orica-Scott at 1:36
24. José Gonçalves (Por) Katusha-Alpecin
25. Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe at 1:37.

Giro d’Italia Final Overall Result:
1. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Sunweb 90:34:54
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 0:31
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 0:40
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ at 1:17
5. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 1:56
6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R-La Mondiale at 3:11
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo at 3:41
8. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors at 7:04
9. Adam Yates (GB) Orica-Scott at 8:10
10. Davide Formolo (Ita) Cannondale-Drapac at 15:17
11. Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates at 18:06
12. Jan Hirt (Cze) CCC Sprandi Polkowice at 20:49
13. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 21:59
14. Dario Cataldo (Ita) Astana at 24:40
15. Sébastien Reichenbach (Swi) FDJ at 28:11
16. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe at 35:50
17. Mikel Landa (Spa) Sky at 37:09
18. Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar at 37:49
19. Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 38:45
20. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 57:13
21. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 59:43
22. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Cannondale-Drapac at 1:12:55
23. Stef Clement (Ned) LottoNl-Jumbo at 1:14:00
24. Laurens De Plus (Bel) Quick-Step Floors at 1:20:00
25. Winner Anacona (Col) Movistar at 1:26:41.

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