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Giro Week Three: What Script Will It Follow?

The history of cronomen and climbers battling is one of major, stunning power shifts; is another on tap?

Passo dello Stelvio
Tim de Waele

The way to frame the question on everyone’s mind as regards the battle for Giro supremacy is either as the Time Trial Guy vs. the Climber, or the Guy In Front vs. the Comebacker. The latter is of course a mere restatement of the facts, while the former is something more subjective, and might not even be fair by the time it’s all said and done. No, Nairo Quintana the Climber is one jaguar who ain’t changing his spots, but Tom Dumoulin the ITT specialist might turn out to be a pretty fair scalatore after all. For now, though, we will reserve judgment, or I will, until he’s survived a trio of major mountain ascents in the same sort of shape with which he’s handled the single servings offered by the race to this point.

What can be said is that Quintana trails after a series of stages that didn’t suit him enough, or at all, and that Dumoulin handled with aplomb. But things are looking up (and up and up) for the Colombian’s fortunes in the final week, as the Giro’s heaviest climbing phase gets underway, as long as you don’t look to carefully and wonder why the race took the wrong way up the Mortirolo and Stelvio. Still, less than three minutes is nothing if people’s fortunes diverge sharply enough, and Quintana, while not looking dominant, has enough of a history and a team to keep us all on the edge of our seats.

So what recent grand tours does this battle resemble? When else have we seen the Cronoman and the Climber do battle in this see-saw fashion? When else have fortunes been violently reversed in the final week? Plenty of times, so the real question is, do those instances tell us anything about the coming week? Let’s walk backward through some recent instances, those being the most relevant to now. [And going light on the Vuelta, where non-climbers fear to tread.]

The decisive group... the snowbanks... I can’t look
Tim de Waele

2016 Giro d’Italia

Start of Week 3 (eventual winner in bold):

  1. Steven Kruijswijk
  2. Stevie Chaves, at 2.12
  3. Vincenzo Nibali, at 2.51

What the Hell Happened?

I’m sure close to all of us recall the story clearly: Kruijswijk bounces off a snowbank and falls to pieces. Chaves becomes the leader for a day, then gets masterfully undone by Nibali. Nibali wins.

Any Resemblance to Now?

Hope not. Two years in a row of Dutch Giro winners bouncing off a snowbank and squandering their rightful prize might be a blow to the EU. But that was a fluky thing, and while cycling history is littered with fluky occurrences, we don’t often see the same sort of thing happen two years in a row.

Aru finally bags his quarry as Dumoulin loses contact
Tim de Waele

2015 Vuelta a España

Start of Week 3 (eventual winner in bold):

  1. Tom Dumoulin
  2. Fabio Aru, at 0.03

What the Hell Happened?

I bent the rules a bit in including this, because actually Joaquim Rodriguez led the race at the start of week 3, but the first stage after the break was a time trial, where the cronoman Dumoulin (!) crushed the stage and briefly took control. Too delicious not to include here. Dumoulin followed Aru over a few mountain stages that, lucky for him, ended in descents, but succumbed on the final one where he dropped over four minutes.

Any Resemblance to Now?

Quite a lot, except that Dumoulin is stronger and has amassed a much safer lead from the time trial... but with more work left to be done. Of course, a lot has changed for the Dutchman since 2015. Then, he was a late inclusion into the race after crashing out of the Tour in a horrific pileup on stage 3, and his near-win was a shock to everyone, including himself. Now he’s exactly where his season was designed for him to be, and he has a couple more seasons’ worth of experience to tell him what to do. That Vuelta course that got him at the end was nothing like what he’s up against in the next few days, but neither is Dumoulin much like the rider he was back then.

Quintana ascends on stage 20
Tim de Waele

2014 Giro d’Italia

Start of Week 3 (eventual winner in bold):

  1. Rigoberto Uran
  2. Cadel Evans, at 1.03
  3. Rafal Majka, at 1.50
  4. Fabio Aru, at 2.24
  5. Nairo Quintana, at 2.40

What the Hell Happened?

Quintana won two of the major mountain stages, the first of which was the Gavia-Stelvio stage with a finish at Val Martinello, and the second of which was a climbing time trial to Monte Grappa (a tribute to our own Susie Hartigan - isn’t the Giro nice for doing these tributes?). Quintana blew everyone away in the former and firmed things up nicely in the latter.

Any Resemblance to Now?

Some! If Quintana believed in fairy tales he would love the fact that his next race looks a lot like the day he blowed up the 2014 Giro. Unfortunately, the cast of characters has changed, and Dumoulin might be a little tougher to drop than Rigo Uran. We shall see. But he has to be drawing some confidence from returning to the scene of his first great grand tour glory, at least of the GC-winning variety.

Evans drills Schleck in 2011 Tour
Tim de Waele

2011 Tour de France

Start of Week 3 (eventual winner in bold):

  1. Thomas Voeckler
  2. Frank Schleck, at 1.49
  3. Cadel Evans, at 2.06
  4. Andy Schleck, at 2.15

What the Hell Happened?

The real battle was Andy and Cadel, with two brutal mountain stages to Galibier (as a finish) and to Alpe d’Huez the next day, and Voeckler was just keeping the jersey warm for one of the other three (if you add in Frank). Andy got the prize with 57 seconds over Cadel after the Alpe, but a 42km ITT remained where everyone knew the Aussie would be throwing some schlecks on the barby. Andy blew 2.31 and Frank about the same, giving Evans the title.

Any Resemblance to Now?

A few eerie coincidences, in those ITT gaps, so in that sense the final outcome doesn’t look good for Nairo, particularly with a second time trial left at the conclusion. This was one of the great cronomen-vs-climbers battles of recent times and it certainly suggests that if the climber can limit his losses to a minute or so in the high mountains, he can reverse that pretty easily against the watch.

Evans Surrounded
Lars Ronbog

2008 Tour de France

Start of Week 3 (eventual winner in bold):

  1. Frank Schleck
  2. Bernhard Kohl, at 0.07
  3. Cadel Evans, at 0.08
  4. Denis Menchov, at 0.38
  5. Christian VandeVelde, at 0.39
  6. Carlos Sastre, at 0.49

What the Hell Happened?

Riis’ greatest week of directing, as his CSC team worked over the beleaguered Evans, so often having to do all his own work. Evans and Frank had been trading the jersey for a few days, with Frank getting it back on a modest climb in Italy at Prato Nevoso. Andy loomed and prodded Evans while he focused on Frank. But Sastre was the final card to play, and on Alpe d’Huez he rode away to glory. There was still a time trial left, and Sastre only had 1.34 on the Australian heading into the 53km event, but he was worn out and could barely recoup half a minute on the Spaniard.

Any Resemblance to Now?

Hm... yes. Evans had famously little help from his team, and while I don’t know if Sunweb will fall on their faces completely, they are a shadow of what Nairo has in his Movistar squad. The gaps were very small all week, even with a long ITT, so it was maybe a bit more nip-and-tuck in 2011 than this year’s Giro is. But it shows you that the cronoman can’t just assume that an end-of-race time trial is his trump card. Dumoulin has to either keep the lead, or if he surrenders it, by a small enough amount, and with enough strength to ply his natural advantage. And after three weeks, with a strong team hitting you with all they have, it’s not a safe assumption that you’ll enough left to do what you normally do best.


You could add in the 2005 Giro, where Savoldelli done Gibo dirty by limiting his deficit over the Finistere/Sestrieres stage, a legendary day, but then pre-Puerto legends leave a bit to be desired. Anyway I have to go to bed now, and there’s enough to chew on here. Ultimately, I think we see these battles a lot — the climber versus the ITT man, or the one-dimensional guy vs. multi-skilled rider, and it comes down to who benefits from the last swing of the pendulum. If we had a parade stage into Milan, I think I’d favor Quintana this week, but we don’t, so he will have to do something truly special to hold off a very impressive Dumoulin. Stay tuned!