BORMIO, Italy (VN) — Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) had planned for all contingencies Tuesday in his pink jersey defense, except one.
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At the worst possible moment in the 222km queen stage, just as the main GC group powered to the base of the second and final passage up the fearsome Stelvio, the Giro d’Italia race leader abruptly pulled off to the side of the road. At first, it looked as though it was a mechanical. It quickly became apparent it was an emergency of a very different kind.
“I needed to shit … that’s it,” said a demoralized Dumoulin. “I felt sick all of a sudden, after the top of the Stelvio, and when we hit the downhill, that’s when the problem occurred.”
The “problem” was a frantic, pull-down-the-bibs crisis right next to a traffic sign right when the GC pack was powering toward the decisive accelerations. Dumoulin said he had no choice despite the danger of letting the pink jersey slip away.
Dumoulin later gave a brave chase, but his lead shrunk from a formidable 2:41 on Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to a slender 31 seconds. Stage-winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), who started 3:40 back, also returns to the frame, dangerous in third at 1:12 back.
“On the podium I was angry with myself because I had good legs,” he said. “Just because of a problem, I lost two minutes. That’s super-disappointing.”
Chaos ensued as the Giro hung in the balance. Dumoulin did what he could in such an awkward situation as the leaders pressed their case. Despite having Mikel Landa (Sky) and other attackers still up the road from the day’s main breakaway, Movistar momentarily slowed the race, but the action and momentum soon carried the GC group forward.
Dumoulin couldn’t believe his bad luck. The team handled the stage as best it could, putting Laurens ten Dam into the day’s main breakaway. Dumoulin looked untouchable over the Mortirolo and the first of two passages over the Stelvio, but he started to feel queasy from a mix of altitude and energy gels.
“When he came down the Stelvio the first time, he was complaining a bit,” said Sunweb sport director Aike Visbeek. “He tried to hold it, but it just wasn’t possible. To do it on the bike, and then ride up 12km up a mountain? Well, that’s not very pleasant … Nature called, and he had an emergency. It was lousy timing.”
Some had expected to see Dumoulin crack in the mountains, but hardly from such unseemly circumstances.
In fact, Dumoulin was looking very strong. It’s impossible to say how he would have managed. He was sure he had the legs to stay with the favorites on the final climb, and limited losses to around two minutes despite climbing the final Stelvio climb alone.
“I only lost two minutes in 33km chasing alone all the time, so I definitely had the legs to follow Quintana and Nibali,” Dumoulin said. “I hope to recover — I hope I’m not sick, and it’s the same problem as last year [when he was ill during the Tour de France]. That’d mean the Giro is not over.”
Team officials are also hopeful that his stomach problems were triggered from the demands of the day, and not indicative of a more serious stomach bug.
Similar situations have happened to others throughout cycling history — Peter Sagan made an unplanned stop in a caravan during last year’s Tour de France and Caleb Ewan had a similar emergency just 35km from the stage he won in this Giro — but perhaps it’s never happened with the pink jersey on the line.
Team officials hope Dumoulin will be back at full strength for Wednesday’s transition stage to Canazei. Though it’s long at 219km, its profile is easier than Tuesday and what the peloton will face Thursday deep in the Dolomites.
“I am proud how he handled this situation,” Visbeek said. “This is maybe the stage that was the most unknown territory for Tom, and if you do this with this emergency, when you stop on the foot of the last climb, we can take confidence from that. There are certainly chances for him to take back time. This Giro is far from over.”
Both Quintana and Nibali, however, were back within striking range. Indeed, the Giro is far from over.
“It was an important reduction of time, and now we are a lot closer,” Quintana said. “It gives us a bit more confidence, and the team is working well. We hope to take back even more time in the days ahead.”
Nibali, too, said the Giro isn’t decided, but expressed sympathy for Dumoulin.
“It happened to me once in a race,” Nibali said. “Believe me, it’s not very pleasant.”