Mikel Landa of Sky finally got his stage victory with a solo attack on the Piancavallo climb, and Tom Dumoulin had his first unconvincing defense of the maglia rosa, dropping more than a minute to his rivals and losing the overall lead for the time being. But it was more a day where he lost it than Movistar’s Nairo Quintana took it from him, as the Colombian suffered all the way up the final climb and lacked any of his trademark acceleration on the incline.
In fact, only Thibaut Pinot of FDJ had the ability to attack the leaders’ pack, gaining a gap in the final 4km of the climb, but his advantage was a mere 12 seconds over Quintana and 14 seconds to defeinding winner Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida, who himself had a go at Quintana but couldn’t do much in the end.
The maglia rosa hit the bottom of the final climb more than nine minutes behind the leaders, who were numerous but most prominently led by the attacking Landa and chasers Pierre Rolland of Cannondale and Rui Costa of UAE. That trio seemed to be spoiling for a duel, but Landa had by far the best legs, quickly gaining half a minute’s advantage and widening it as the stage wound down. After two narrow losses in sprints at the end of climbing stages, Landa knew well in advance that he would finish the stage alone, with plenty of time to celebrate his certain win. His three stage wins or near misses raise questions about what might have been for the Basque climber, who ceded 25 minutes in the infamous Blockhaus crash and resulting wounds. In the final week he was the rider with the springiest set of legs.
Behind him, Dumoulin was hurting as the steep pitch of the Piancavallo climb bit into his body. He let out a small gap at some 9km from the finish without the benefit of any major attacks, just slid backwards into his pace. Teammate Simon Geschke paced him for a while but then Dumoulin was alone. For a long time he could see his rivals just seconds ahead of him, but the climb did not favor his powerful style, and bit by bit the gap widened.
Among the challengers, there was curiously little movement until Pinot flew away and threatened to upend the race entirely. With his time trialling ability, a strong performance by the Frenchman could see him surpass Nibali for third and maybe even challenge for the victory in Milan. However, as exciting as his attack was, he failed to sustain it in a way to gain him larger blocks of time. Pinot is a strong bet for a podium position now but not pink. Not yet, anyway. Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha and Domenico Pozzovivo of AG2R also got away and gained a mere handful of seconds as well.
Nibali took a couple digs of his own, as he does, and one of them saw Quintana briefly sliding backwards alarmingly, but the Condor of Boyaca recovered and rejoined the front group, clearly lacking anything special like what we have seen in the past but able to pull out a defensive performance that put him in the lead as Dumoulin rolled in 1.08 off the lead by the finish.
The General Classification is a real piece of work now. Dumoulin’s dominance against the watch suggests that Quintana’s 38-second lead will be of little comfort to the Colombian, and if there were nothing else to do, Dumoulin would have to be considered the de facto leader with Pinot (fourth and 53 seconds back) another threat to pass Quintana. But stage 20 tomorrow is another, last day in the mountains, and the challenging climb to Monte Grappa and the nothing-to-sneeze-at Foza ascent that tops out with 15km remaining will further challenge Dumoulin’s ability to stay with the mountain goats. Dumoulin claimed after the stage today that his legs “didn’t work” and that he made a “rookie mistake,” presumably referring to an earlier descent where he wandered too far back and found himself behind a split, forcing him to use energy to rejoin his rivals. If he makes another such error, or his legs don’t come to work tomorrow, his seemingly solid hopes for overall victory will go completely missing.
But will Quintana be the one to cash in on such an opportunity, if it comes along? The unstoppable climbing force that we had come to expect is nowhere to be found in Italy, and if he needs another minute or more tomorrow, he may be left hoping it falls from the sky, like today’s advantage did, and like the two minutes he gained on stage 16 when Dumoulin had to relieve himself at the worst possible time. But with two grand tour titles to his name, he is a veteran winner, and anything resembling a good day might be enough for a second Giro victory.
Nibali is perhaps in the most precarious position, lacking the climbing ability to put away Quintana and the time trialling chops to hold off a reasonably frisky (by comparison) Pinot nipping at his heels. Zakarin and Pozzovivo remain long shots, and everyone else can forget about winning, though sixth-placed Pozzovivo is a mere 38 seconds off the last podium spot with more reshuffling ahead. What this Giro has lacked in legendary performances, it is sure atoning for with excitement.
- Mikel Landa, Sky
- Rui Costa, UAE, at 1.49
- Pierre Rolland, Cannondale, at 1.54
- Pello Bilbao, Astana, at 2.12
- Sebastian Henao, Sky, at 3.06
- Evgeni Shalunov, Gazprom Rusvelo, at 3.51
- Luis Leon Sanchez, Astana, s.t.
- Matteo Busatto, Wilier, at 5.05
- Lorenzo Rota, Bardiani, s.t.
- Ilia Koshevoy, Wilier, at 6.44
- Thibaut Pinot, FDJ, at 8.09
- Domenico Pozzovivo, AG2R, at 8.15
- Ilnur Kazarin, Katusha, s.t.
- Bob Jungels, Quick Step, at 8.21
- Adam Yates, Orica, s.t.
- Nairo Quintana, Movistar, s.t.
- Bauke Mollema, Trek, at 8.23
- Vincenzo Nibali, Bahrain Merida, s.t.
- Jan Hirt, CCC, s.t.
- Jose Herrada, Movistar, at 8.58
- Nairo Quintana, Movistar
- Tom Dumoulin, Sunweb, at 0.38
- Vincenzo Nibali, Bahrain Merida, at 0.43
- Thibaut Pinot, FDJ, at 0.53
- Ilnur Zakarin, Katusha, at 1.21
- Domenico Pozzovivo, AG2R, at 1.30
- Bauke Mollema, Trek-Segafredo, at 2.48
- Adam Yates, Orica, at 6.35