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Will wind direction crown Giro champ? TT duel sets tone for final week

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TRENTO, Italy (VN) — The 2018 Giro d’Italia could come down to which way the wind blows Tuesday afternoon in northern Italy.

If there’s a tailwind, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) could ride pink all the way to Rome. If the weather turns with possible rain and headwinds, we might have a race on our hands.

“If the wind is like it was today, there will be smaller time differences,” said Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin. “There is some talk that the wind could change. If it doesn’t, he would have to do a very bad time trial to lose his jersey to me.”

Dumoulin didn’t like what he saw Monday. A brisk tailwind pushed him along as he previewed the mostly flat, wide open point-to-point course heading north to south from Trento to Rovereto. Forecasters, however, are calling for possible showers and winds kicking up on Tuesday afternoon. That could mean head- or crosswinds for much of the TT course.

The advantages of technique and position are diminished in a tailwind while pure power and strength matter more. In challenging conditions with cross and headwinds, power takes a backseat to aerodynamics and technique.

“Tomorrow is about the aero position,” Yates said. “It’s a very different course than Jerusalem. That is why I am not confident at all about tomorrow.”

Dumoulin and Yates have been locked in a brutal tug-of-war for the pink jersey since the Giro started with Tuesday’s time trial as the tipping point.

Dumoulin’s been fighting to hang on in the mountains to wait for Tuesday. Yates has uncorked a string of highly effective attacks every time the road has tilted up in this Giro. Yates knows he can lose every second he’s gained over the past two weeks.

Yates Dumoulin
Tom Dumoulin has been unable to contain a brilliant Simon Yates on the Giro’s mountain stages. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“I am expecting to lose a lot,” Yates said of the time trial. “That’s why I have been so aggressive to try to take time.”

Tuesday’s 34.2km race against the clock will set the tone for the remainder of the 2018 Giro.

A strong Dumoulin performance could revive the Dutchman’s hopes of defending the Giro crown. Yates needs to limit the damage and knows even if he loses the jersey it might only be temporary. Even Dumoulin admits that Yates is the favorite in the remaining three mountain stages in the Giro’s final week.

“We’re confident in our position right now,” said general manager Shane Bannon. “Even if Simon gives up the jersey in the time trial, we think he will still be close to have a real chance of taking it back. With the way he is climbing, he will have a good chance.”

No one’s wanting to put a number on how much Dumoulin might take back on Yates. Most insiders say Dumoulin can expect to take anywhere from one and a half and two minutes.

“I’ve seen nicer courses for me personally,” Dumoulin said. “It’s super-fast and flat. It’s not 100 percent how I would like it, but I am happy with any time trial.”

Tom Dumoulin
Tom Dumoulin took the first pink jersey of the Giro d’Italia, winning the stage 1 time trial around Jerusalem. Photo: ©Tim De Waele | Getty Images

And then there’s the wind.

The long, wide open Adige valley at Trento is like a funnel. With huge mountains stacked up on both sides, the wind whips up and down the valley depending on what weather is pushing through.

On Monday, Dumoulin examined the course in tailwinds and sunny skies. On Tuesday, forecasters are calling for likely cross/headwinds of about 10-15kph, with a chance of rain. That could be just enough wind to greatly favor time trial king Dumoulin over explosive climber Yates.

In fact, some forecasts peg a shift in the winds right around 4 p.m., just when the top favorites will head out on the decisive course.

“With a tailwind, there is a limit of how much faster you can go,” Dumoulin said. “It depends on the wind. The differences will be bigger if there is a headwind.”

Others still in the hunt for the podium also know the time trial is key to their Giro aspirations. Riders like Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) also want to limit their losses. Chris Froome (Sky), who’s raced an up and down Giro, wants to revive his podium hopes.

“If I gain anything on Tom Dumoulin, I will be extremely happy,” Froome said. “He is the world champion time trialist, so I do not expect to gain anything on him tomorrow. Let’s see. I am going to give it everything I’ve got.”

Whoever comes up tops Tuesday could be in the driver’s seat going into the final week of the 2018 Giro. The fate of the Giro could hang in the wind.

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