How was the Giro for you? With hindsight the “fight for pink” to borrow the race’s awkward strapline wasn’t vintage stuff. Tom Dumoulin was climbing so well he kept Nairo Quintana within seconds on the Blockhaus and took minutes from him in the time trials and if it wasn’t for the imbroglio over his bowels on the Umbrailpass then he would have cruised to the win. But circumstances combined to give Quintana a shot on the final mountain stage where he, Pinot and Nibali and others put Dumoulin on the spot.
Things lit up on Stage 20 on the climb to Foza, an old military road that climbs out of the Brenta valley. Earlier on the climb to Foza there were attacks from Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana but they were initially reeled in. Ilnur Zakarin and Domenico Pozzovivo managed to go clear and get out of site. Quintana and Nibali tried again but could only keep a slender lead with Dumoulin watching from behind. Pinot then bridged across and this boosted the move, the trio began to go clear, despite Bob Jungels helping out Tom Dumoulin behind. The trio caught Zakarin and Pozzovivo but it wasn’t 3 + 2 = 5 as the group didn’t look so organised but the race has the allure of a team pursuit as the breakaways stayed clear across the Asiago plateau while behind the chase group were rolling through, and all this after a long hill climb. The gap was slender but this only added to the suspense and all along there were plenty of calculations to be made. Who should work, who wanted the stage win, would the time bonus alter the GC or even the final podium. Best of all it kept the Giro going right into the final weekend, suspense that both the Vuelta and Tour lacked.
With hindsight: Tom Dumoulin was an authoritative winner. The fuss over his toilet break diverted attention away from how he climbed the Umbrail about as fast as Quintana and Nibali. Interestingly, refreshingly after dominating the race there was next to no suspicion helped by his team’s image where there are no dodgy doctors or sulfurous soigneurs and they were early members of the MPCC so no arbitraging the rules on corticosteroids either.
The route helped Dumoulin as RCS keep trying to get the balance between a “soft” (these things are relative) parcours designed to attract Tour de France contenders and a savage route cherished by the tifosi. Based on the leaks the 2018 edition – this posted was typed up before going away on holiday and the route announcement – looks like it’ll be a gentler version to tempt Dumoulin back even RCS has, whisper it, traditionally tempted stars with juicy start fees rather than tailoring a route to suit.
But Dumoulin doesn’t need steady ski station climbs and molto time trials, he was at ease on the Blockhaus and bossed the Oropa finish and if Monte Cavallo was hard going he managed it well.
Thibaut Pinot won the stage and was close to the podium and has had a good season only Romain Bardet and Warren Barguil bathed in the limelight come July leaving Pinot somewhat in the shadows. Pinot probably prefers some of this, there are less burdens on him and these days the weight of expectation in France is spread across many shoulders. But squaring the circle of being a rider who loves the Giro while being the captain of French team is always going to be a dilemma.
What of Vincenzo Nibali? He’s no superstar nor “household name” in Italy but come May he is a popular figure and delivered the first Italian stage win of the race as Italians and especially RAI and La Gazzetta were kept waiting. But beyond the Italian peninsular he’s even less known to people. Many know his wins but few seem to know much about the man, he’s probably more associated with that stickiest of bottles from the Vuelta than the youth cycling club he and his family help run and so on. Either way he envlives races with his attacks, he is a pinch of pepper for when the racing gets bland.
There were more stages to pick from, the stages to Peschici won by Gorka Izagirre and Bergamo for Bob Jungels were intense and great entertainment too. But there were some polemica too over that police motorbike and social media erupted over Dumoulin’s dump with some thinking the others should have waited for him like the Giro was some kind of social ride and the matter of cycling’s unwritten rules would remain a hot topic come the Tour de France too with Chris Froome’s multiple mechanicals and as ever because they are unwritten these rules are not black and white and so leave many followers disatisfied, especially as those following the race via television get multiple camera angles and replays when those actually racing often see the wheel in front and not much more.
Why the highlight? Suspense late into the stage race, scenic roads and a lively tactical battle made this a gripping finish. It was a day when we knew Nairo Quintana had to attack and if he seemed underpowered at times – he later said he had a fever – he still gave it his best and distanced Dumoulin to set up a chase.