BERGAMO, Italy (AFP) — An array of punishing climbs on the final week of the Giro d’Italia stands in front of time trial specialist Tom Dumoulin making history as the first Dutch winner of the race’s pink jersey.
But with a lead of more than two and a half minutes on Colombian climbing specialist Nairo Quintana and nearly four minutes on Italy’s two-time champion Vincenzo Nibali, triumph on the coveted 100th edition of the Italian race is now Dumoulin’s to lose.
“The third week will be very difficult,” Dumoulin has said every day since he took the race lead from Quintana on stage 10.
The towering Dutchman’s assessment is correct.
After a third and final rest day on Monday, the pink jersey battle moves up a considerable notch Tuesday. Stage 16 heralds the first of five consecutive days in the high mountains.
Quintana, the Giro’s 2014 champion and a two-time runner-up at the Tour de France, should be in his element and hopes his Movistar teammates — as they have done so far — set the kind of punishing pace on the climbs that leaves rival teams short of supporting riders.
On Sunday, the diminutive Colombian thanked Dumoulin for slowing the pace of the peloton when he crashed on a descent 36km from the finish line in Bergamo so he could catch up.
“It was a nice gesture from a big rival and a great person,” said Quintana, who recovered sufficiently to finish second. He is now 2:41 behind Dumoulin.
Quintana is unlikely to return the favor if Dumoulin — who has impressed so far on the easier climbing stages — is left behind him. Nibali would be even less charitable on the descents.
The defending champion, Nibali sits fourth overall at 3:40 behind back. Like Quintana, he has few options if he is to launch a late challenge for the main prize.
“Whoever is behind Dumoulin has nothing to lose. They have to attack him,” said Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida teammate Joaquim Rodriguez, who visited the Giro Sunday.
Nibali has not looked to be in top form on the climbs in this Giro.
“On the climbs we’ve done so far, I’ve paid the price,” Nibali said. “But I can’t give any more than I have.”
A renowned downhill specialist known as “the shark of Messina,” Nibali could now try to take a chunk out of his rivals on some of the long, technical descents this week. He will likely need to gain some time on the climbs as well.
Sunday’s final stage is a time trial from Monza to Milan. Dumoulin was 2:53 faster than Quintana and 2:07 quicker than Nibali on the stage 10 TT last Tuesday.
“It’s not over, but I have a fairly big deficit to Dumoulin,” Nibali said. “If he ends up winning [the race] when we get to Milan, I’ll shake his hand.”
The Giro resumes Tuesday with the 222km 16th stage from Rovetta to Bormio, which features a 12.6km climb to the Mortirolo pass and two ascents of the Stelvio.