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Dumoulin swats attacks, trades barbs with Nibali

ORTISEI, Italy (VN) — Just call him “Don” Dumoulin.

The Sunweb captain is emerging as the strongest rider in the 2017 Giro d’Italia. But he’s also showing some spine.

Tom Dumoulin swatted away attacks from Movistar and Bahrain-Merida in Thursday’s explosive five-climb stage across the Dolomites, and then flung a few himself post-stage. He’s the Giro’s new patron.

Dumoulin got his hair up after arch-rivals Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) sat on his wheel as podium challengers Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) sent out late-stage flares, taking back 58 seconds. Tempers flew at the line.

“I hope that Nibali and Quintana will lose their podium spot because they’re focusing only on me,” Dumoulin said. “I don’t understand why the three of us didn’t work together. They also lose their podium spot if the other contenders get closer. Pinot is much better in the time trial than Nibali and Quintana … Like I said, if they only focus on me, it would be nice if they lose the podium spot.”

Those comments quickly ricocheted around the race paddock, and an old-school “polemics” kicked up as journalists got grabs from the major contenders. After nearly three “tranquilo” weeks, the “real” Giro finally started.

Nibali was the most pointed and accused Dumoulin of getting “cocky.” He suggested the Dutchman is getting nervous with the growing stress that comes with the maglia rosa.

“I don’t care what Tom said. I think he is being too cocky,” Nibali told RAI after a journalist recounted Dumoulin’s comments. “He is talking too much. He could also lose the podium, because nothing is sure in this Giro. Maybe he should keep his feet on the ground. Does he know what karma is? Because everything comes around.”

Dumoulin quickly countered: “And he called me cocky! Those are strong words from his side. If Nibali is here to win the Giro, I was not happy how they rode today. They were only trying to make me lose. That’s his choice.”

“Until today, I had no problem with Nibali. I just didn’t like his style of racing in the bunch,” Dumoulin continued. “It’s strange that they rode that way. Maybe they will lose their own podium spot. If [Nibali] doesn’t care about it, that’s his problem.”

The “he-said, she-said” continued. Nibali insisted that it was Dumoulin’s responsibility, as race leader, to chase down the podium threats from all sides.

“He’s the strongest. Nairo and I had to control [Dumoulin],” Nibali said. “He cannot expect that if fifth on the GC attacks, that it’s up to us to chase.”

The heated comments came at the end of a heated stage. Movistar and Bahrain-Merida had the knives out in the short, intense stage across the spectacular mountains of Italy’s Dolomites.

Movistar put two riders up the road in a breakaway, and slowly turned the screws. By the time the main GC pack hit the Passo Gardena on the day’s third climb, the trap was set. Dumoulin was left without teammates, and then Quintana attacked to bridge to the waiting Andrey Amador and Winner Anacona. Nibali soon followed.

Dumoulin looked to be on the ropes, and the leading attackers were hoping to clear the summit before a long descent to finally break the stubborn Dutchman. Revealing his depth of strength, Dumoulin singlehandedly bridged a 20-second gap that nearly put Quintana into the virtual lead.

“It was a strong attack on Gardena, and it was not easy, but I was able to close it,” Dumoulin said. “In the final, I was not completely happy with the situation. I wanted to stay with all the GC riders. It was for Nibali, Quintana, and me to keep it together. That’s why I was a little bit frustrated that they only rode my wheel.”

After a long, 40km downhill, punctuated by a short climb, the GC group hit the base of the final 9.3km run up to Ortisei eyeing each other. Dumoulin smothered a few sorties by Quintana and Nibali. He even countered with one acceleration. With Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) winning the stage out of a breakaway, the GC group looked stalemated until Pinot and Pozzovivo attacked in the closing 3km.

“I saw that everyone was very tired,” said Pozzovivo, who remained sixth, but trimmed his gap to 2:07. “When I attacked, only Pinot could follow, and I thought that they would hesitate, and I could take time. That is exactly what happened.”

Quintana, meanwhile, kept his poker face on. The Colombian tried at least two major attacks, and couldn’t shake Dumoulin. Sensing that the Dutchman was strong, he took a risk when Pinot and Pozzovivo attacked to put Dumoulin under pressure.

Dumoulin was waving to Nibali and Quintana to chase, but they both sat icily on his wheel.

“He was telling us to close the gap, but we left the responsibility to him,” Quintana said. “Every team has their tactics. We had ours today, and it worked well, but Dumoulin is proving he is very strong. I think today at least we made him suffer, and tomorrow we’ll try again.”

Time could well be running out for Nibali and Quintana. Only two more summit finales stand between Dumoulin and the final-day time trial in Milan. But even he knows the race is far from over.

“If I have a bad day in the coming days, I can lose time. Today I felt confident that I was able to control the situation,” Dumoulin said. “I lost it all on the last day of the Vuelta, so it’s definitely not over until we are in Milan.”

The Giro might not be over, but the polemics finally started. It will be all over La Gazzetta dello Sport in tomorrow’s edition.

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