As we wait for photos of today’s stage to be made available to accompany the review of today’s stage the painting above by Pieter Bruegel can serve as an illustration in the meantime. It was a battle from the start to the finish where Steven Kruijswijk came out on top.
Dutch fans who have been biting down their finger nails can relax after today’s showing. As the attacks flew Kruijswijk was quickly isolated and began to respond to every move in person. How long could this personal defence last? Was he using up too much energy too soon? He was tested and l’Olandese Volante, the Flying Dutchman, finished second on the stage and gained a minute on his nearest rival Esteban Chaves. Those hoping to put Kruijswijk under pressure saw their plans backfire.
Chaves had a stressful day at work. When the moves went on the Mendelpass he wasn’t there. Instead Kruijswijk, Nibali and Kangert, Zakarin, Valverde, Firsanov, Jungels, Ulissi, Lopez and Dombrowski. Kangert set to work for Nibali while behind Orica-Greenedge Amets Txurruka and Ruben Plaza and if they did a valiant job they just could close the gap on the valley roads but they did well to limit it and on the Fai della Paganella climb he took off to try and close the gap.
Valverde won the day. In one of those ironies that only cycling can throw up he won exactly 10 years to the day Operation Puerto went public, as if the past can sometimes cast a long shadow. Looking ahead he and told RAI television that he’s come to Italy to win a stage and finish on the podium. He’s done the easy bit now and could well enjoy Thursday’s finish in Pinerolo too. A podium finish is going to be a big ask even if he sits third right now. Friday and Saturday’s high altitude crossings maybe less suited to him with Vincenzo Nibali and Ilnur Zakarin both within 90 seconds on the general classification. Maybe Valverde can find ways to out-psyche Nibali but the Russian is looking lively again.
The club of those who want two week grand tours may include Vincenzo Nibali tonight because the longer the Giro goes on the more time he’s losing. It’s painful to watch at times, his efforts don’t work and it’s happening right in front of his fans and all while a mooted Bahrain-backed team is being built around him. The prince bankrolling the team may wonder if he’s getting the best money can buy. Still back to the subject of the day and Nibali deserves credit for trying, he’s been the instigator of the moves and it was his attack on the Mendelpass that blew the race to pieces. He is a grand tour contender but more than often he’s also a catalytic agent in races who enlivens the action but falls out of the results. Yes he slipped down the rankings today but his efforts today made the stage more exciting and more fundamentally he’s made Kruijswijk look better, he and his Astana team tried to make the maglia rosa suffer but the Dutchman fought back and won.
While a few may want shorter grand tours surely everyone wants shorter stages. Today’s 132km dash to the Brenta Dolimites was explosive from the start. They’re like nouvelle cuisine dishes though, packed with freshness and intensity but not something to serve up every day. It’s the addition of long stages that provide the contrast and distance is only one component, today’s stage was made great by the incisive climbs.
The Giro isn’t over and Kruijswijk’s got two giant mountain stages to contend with but his ride today will give him confidence and push back his rivals. Chaves had a hiccup and will be looking over his shoulder to protect second place while Valverde may want a podium finish but Nibali and Astana will continue with the fireworks and Zakarin looks sharp and ambitious again.
Top-11 on Stage 16
Top-10 Overall after Stage 16