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Dumoulin’s dominant TT ride spices up Giro d’Italia

MONTEFALCO, Italy (VN) — What a difference a time trial makes. Less than 48 hours ago, after Nairo Quintana (Movistar) surged into pink on Blockhaus, everyone lamented a decaffeinated Giro d’Italia.

That all changed in a hurry Tuesday. Or, to be exact, in 50 minutes, 37 seconds, the precise time it took Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) to pump new life into the 100th Giro.

By snatching the stage and the pink jersey — now 2:23 ahead of second-place Quintana — the rider known as the Butterfly of Maastricht instantly made this Giro interesting.

“It’s a nice gap to have going into the mountains,” Dumoulin said. “The last week will be very, very difficult, and two and a half minutes is nothing in the last week of the Giro.”

Dumoulin’s TT win wasn’t a shock. In fact, he said he was more surprised by his third-place climb up Blockhaus Sunday, just 24 seconds behind Quintana. He didn’t expect to take time on the other climbers as well.

Before the stage, Quintana was quietly suggesting he could defend the pink jersey. Against buffeting winds — tail, cross, and headwinds in the looping, hilly route — Quintana was bleeding time. Dressed head-to-knees in pink (he refused to wear pink shoe-covers), Quintana made an incredible save by bunny-hopping a concrete traffic divider in a right-hander midway through the race. But he couldn’t save his maglia rosa.

The losses were substantial: Quintana crossed the line 23rd at 2:53 back, and needs to erase 2:23 to Dumoulin in the upcoming mountains. (That’s not counting the final-day time trial in Milan.)

“I lost more than I expected,” Quintana admitted. “Dumoulin was flying. Now we have to devise another strategy to take back the pink jersey.”

No one is saying this Giro is over, especially Dumoulin, who famously collapsed in the final mountain stage to lose the 2015 Vuelta a España. But Dumoulin, version.2017, is a very different rider than two years ago. For the first time of his career, he’s prepared specifically for a grand tour. He did altitude camps in Tenerife and Sierra Nevada. No longer a stage-hunter or TT man, the multi-faceted Dumoulin believes he can become the Netherlands’s first grand tour winner since 1980.

“I am pleased that my time trial is still good,” he said. “What’s improved is my climbing. I’ve trained specifically for longer climbs.”

Normally time trials take the life out of a grand tour, especially at the highly controlled Tour de France. In a Giro packed with ambitious climbers and a mountainous final week, Dumoulin’s TT home run had the opposite effect. He instantly pumped new life into what’s largely been a moribund Giro.

The time differences to a swarm of climbers — bunched together from Quintana’s 2:23 to Bauke Mollema in third at 2:38, Thibaut Pinot in fourth at 2:40 and Vincenzo Nibali in fifth at 2:47 — are significant enough to mean that they cannot simply expect to drop Dumoulin in one day of heroics.

They will have to chip away, taking 30 seconds here or a minute there. And with the final-day time trial in Milan of 29.3km, they have to attack every chance they get.

“Dumoulin was at another level today,” said two-time winner Nibali. “He’s also looking stronger in the mountains. It won’t be easy to beat him, but the final week is very hard.”

This new-look Dumoulin won’t be so easy to crack. The 6-foot-1 Dutchman was impressive up Blockhaus. Even he admitted that the mountains lurking in the north of Italy are another type of suffering.

“You never know, a lot can happen in the third week,” Dumoulin said. “They need to take back some time on me in the mountains, and they know it.”

Dumoulin knew he needed a head-start going into the decisive mountains to hope to win the 2017 Giro d’Italia. Now he has it.

“We’ll see how much [the advantage] is worth in the mountains,” Dumoulin said. “It’s the hardest third week I’ve ever raced. It will be very hard to keep this jersey until Milan, but I will try.”

Buckle up. The fun starts Wednesday with what many say is a deceptively difficult climbing stage across the rugged mountains of central Italy. Narrow roads, heat, and a jigsaw profile all but guarantee the action will start from the gun.

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