The weather looks set fair for the Alps with cool but sunny conditions expected for tomorrow’s siege of the Stelvio and for the rest of the week too. Tom Dumoulin looks in command and even signalled he was the Giro’s padrone at one point during yesterday’s stage when Nairo Quintana had crashed by telling the main group to slow. As the Giro enjoys its third rest day there’s the sense that everything so far been antipasti to the dishes about to be served up in the Alps.
Talking of Alpine weather there’s talk that RCS will ask the UCI for a later slot on the calender next year, just a week further into May means the mountain passes are more viable. Certainly if you want to visit the Stelvio you’d not go before June but one other benefit is that more of the Giro would take place once Italy’s football season has finished, La Gazzetta is packed with calcio coverage and it might make commercial sense to have more of the Giro happening once the football is done.
After flicking past page after page of football you reach page 44 where this morning’s La Gazzetta Dello Sport is all about Bob Jungel’s stage win yesterday, the speed of the stage and the large crowds. Jungels took a fine win after a full gas stage, 46.5km/h for 199km with climbing too. The irony is that Quick Step’s grip on the race with four stage wins already means many other teams are scrambling for a stage win so they fought to escape on a breakaway day… only for another Quick Step win.
Time travel: the arithmetic is simple, Nairo Quintana is 2m41s behind Tom Dumoulin or 161 seconds. Let’s say Dumoulin is 90 seconds faster in the final stage time trial, this means Quintana needs 251 seconds between here and Saturday, to take back over four minutes in the coming stages in order to have a chance of the overall win. A late attack on a summit finish to chisel a few seconds here or there won’t cut it: Dumoulin has to crack, to be broken. For reference Steven Kruijswijk’s crash and lone chase cost him 4m54s. Viewed like this it seems misfortune and mistake are Dumoulin’s rivals, not Quintana, Pinot and Nibali. But a year ago Kruijswijk had already been tested in the high mountains, it was this that had put him into such a commanding position. By contrast the 2017 edition simply hasn’t had a “proper” mountain stage where we see a parade of passes and a summit finish. The idea is the repeat climbs will tenderize Dumoulin ahead of a summit finish where he could implode. If he is climbing as fast as his rivals on Blockhaus and beating them to Oropa then he can surely match their tempo one, two or three climbs? It’s not as if he came to the Giro hunting for time trial stage wins and the rest as a bonus: he’s spent time training on these climbs and did a training camp in Livigno just up the road from Bormio and the Stelvio. Indeed what if Dumoulin finds the Alps suit him even more? Certainly the roads ahead are often regular, the classic ski station access roads designed to let buses ferry tourists to resorts meaning level gradients and smooth tarmac compared the Blockhaus’s road which climbed like an irregular mule path: what better for a rider who prefers to pace himself?
Team tactics: Movistar still hold the key to the race. The tactic of sending a rider up the road to act as a relay is an old one but always a good one. Movistar can afford to send two riders ahead into the breakaway – say Gorka Izagirre and José Herrada – and still retain a core of support riders around Quintana like Rory Sutherland, Victor de la Parte and J-J Rojas for shelter before using Winner Anacona and Andrey Amador as booster rockets for a mountain attack so that the Colombian can bridge across to his waiting team mates who can then tow him to the next climb. Easier said than done: this is Giro and not Pro Cycling Manager but it’s just one example of the rich options available to Movistar. Similarly they could play a longer game by reserving the likes of Amador and Anacona while still forcing Sunweb to chase and run themselves ragged, then use them the following day for more relay moves. It all revolves around Quintana who may simply not have what it takes, his attack to Oropa was reeled in, he crashed yesterday and if you wanted to see his bidon half-empty then his sprint for time bonuses in Bergamo suggests he’s thinking about seconds rather than minutes.
Back in the 2015 Vuelta a España Dumoulin (pictured) lost in part because he didn’t have a strong team around him, Giant-Alpecin came built around John Degenkolb with barely a climber in support and the stage to Cercedilla where Astana took control of the race was like watching a nature documentary where a pack of hyenas isolate a gazelle, chase it to exhaustion and then devour it. This time Dumoulin’s got able support with Georg Preidler, Laurens Ten Dam, Chad Haga and Simon Geschke all valuable but can they stand up to Movistar? Sunweb team management will be consumed by this today.
The rest of the race is open. Vincenzo Nibali has tried a few attacks but they’ve come to nothing. Does he want a stage win, applause or a podium finish? He’s fourth overall so everything is open to him and he’s likely to go big before going home. His every move matters given Pinot and Quintana will mark him, they won’t just be basing their race on Dumoulin. Most importantly his moves show he’s able to attack, to make the race even if he’s yet to get a result: he’s in a far more comfortable position than he was a year ago.
What about Thibaut Pinot? He too enters his preferred terrain and style of racing. Full speed approaches followed by high tempo climbs are not his thing, he’s said it in the Giro but before too so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do, especially knowing that Nibali is looking strong in the time trials and Ilnur Zakarin is only a minute behind too, seemingly erratic yet somehow consistent given he’s sitting fifth overall. Has Bauke Mollema collapsed? No, he simply lost time at Oropa in the high speed summit finish and made the selection over the climb to Bergamo Alta yesterday, he could find the upcoming mountain stages more to his advantage but the third week of a grand tour is still the question for him, he’s fallen apart before. A breakaway here, a time trial there: the podium places are still up for grabs which itself will impact the tactics, hopefully encouraging moves but beware the defensive positioning where Movistar and FDJ look over their shoulders to contain moves too. Also you can be sitting in the top-10 one minute and then in hospital the next as Tanel Kangert showed yesterday when he collided into an unmarked signpost.
Around this there’s also the competition for stage wins with the likes of Team Sky, Orica-Scott, Cannondale-Drapac, BMC Racing, UAE-Emirates all hunting for stages and deploying strong riders who may get a result but will certainly shake up the racing.
The mountains competition is starts, Dumoulin leads with 51 points with Omar Fraile on 49 points, Jan Polanc on 46. Tomorrow’s passage over the Stelvio, the Cima Coppi as the highest point in the race, offers first nine win 45-30-20-14-10-6-4-2-1 points. In other words one climb will award almost as many points as the leaders have accumulated so far and there are seven first category climbs to come too.
The points competition is stitched up with Fernando Gaviria holding 325 points to Jasper Stuyven on 192 and again Stuyven needs to win every remaining stage without Gaviria placing to have a chance of taking; in other words Gaviria just has to reach Milan. He’s had a great Giro with four stages, Quick Step have five thanks to Bob Jungels and La Gazzetta resorted to claiming these wins are part Italian because Davide Bramati has been driving the team car. It all helps but the lack of an Italian win keeps weighing on the race with constant references to it in the domestic media.
What’s next? Tuesday serves up the the 222km tour of the Stelvio which is climbed and descended on all of its flanks. Wednesday keeps piling on the distance with 219km, in the Alps but not at altitude. Thursday’s saw-tooth profile delivers 4,000m of vertical gain squeezed into 137km across the Dolomites. Friday is the final summit finish of the race after a long valley road approach, Saturday is Monte Grappa and then the climb to Foza and on to Asiago: the last roll of the dice for the climbers before Sunday’s 29.3km time trial from Monza to Milan, billed by some as “downhill” but the elevation change between start and finish is 65 metres.
|Thibaut Pinot, Vincenzo Nibali
|Zakarin, Mollema, Jungels
There’s a lot to digest in the coming days and if Tom Dumoulin is sat at the head of the table table we thought that of Steven Kruijswijk this time last year too. The Alps get serious this week and how Dumoulin digests these mountains alongside other rivals, each with their personal appetites, should be great to watch.