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The defending Giro champion swapped out Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) for Chris Froome in Friday’s wild ride across the Italian Alps that saw the Sky captain usurp leadership on stage 19 when Dumoulin was poised to take pink.
Dumoulin started the day optimistically at 28 seconds behind Yates, and was in position to move up if he faltered. What Dumoulin didn’t count on was Froome’s Hail Mary.
“Today was really a crazy stage. I had good legs and did everything right but Froome was too strong and I didn’t have the legs to follow,” Dumoulin said. “I expected Sky to go for it and knew they were planning something.”
After the dust settled atop the steep finale, Dumoulin remained second, now 40 seconds behind Froome.
Sky’s raid on the Giro didn’t come as a surprise to Sunweb. The Dutch team was slotting riders into early breakaways expecting Froome’s helpers to try to gap Yates.
What caught Dumoulin and the others off-guard was just how far Froome was willing to venture an attack. Froome jumped soon after hitting the gravel sections on the Finestre climb with about 80km to go and soloed all the way home for the win and take the pink jersey.
Dumoulin did not follow Froome up the Finestre and instead picked up Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Richard Carapaz (Movistar) for company.
Similar to the frustrating situation on the road to Sappada in stage 15, Dumoulin was caught in a trap. In both scenarios, Dumoulin didn’t have natural allies in the chase group and he ended up having to do much of the pulling himself.
“I knew the responsibility was mostly mine in the chase group,” Dumoulin said. “Everyone was riding their own race and I can understand why not everyone was riding.”
Dumoulin said he slowed on the Finestre descent to allow Pinot’s teammate Sebastian Reichenbach to bridge across with the hope that the two would super-charge the chase in order to drop Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), who had started the day third overall. Lopez and Carapaz were hanging on for dear life and didn’t come to life until they started to attack each other in a skirmish over the white jersey on the final climb.
“I decided two times to wait for Reichenbach because he wanted to ride with me. Maybe that wasn’t a good decision,” Dumoulin said. “On my own, I can descend just as fast as Froome, but Reichenbach descends kind of like an old lady. With hindsight that wasn’t the best idea. But it’s easy to speak afterwards.”
After coming over the Sestriere climb, there was a yo-yo battle for pink between Froome, alone up the road, and the Dumoulin chase group. The gap was hovering around three minutes, with the pink jersey hanging in the balance as Froome powered up the final steep climb.
“I didn’t know if they were still going to race on the final climb or how much Dumoulin had left,” Froome said. “In the end, the Dumoulin group went just about as fast as my group [Froome laughs] — me, myself, and I. I got the feeling that everyone was on the limit.”
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Sunweb, which has been fighting to stay close to Yates throughout this Giro. When Yates wavered, the team was hoping to be able to keep Froome at a safe distance and take over the pink jersey.
“Tom showed great heart today, and he fought until the end,” said Sunweb Marc Reef. “Froome was just too strong, and the chase didn’t even get one second closer.”
Dumoulin is realistic going into Saturday’s final mountain finale. Team Sky’s riders are expert at defending leader’s jerseys and the team will rally around Froome for one last shot. Now 40 seconds back, Dumoulin isn’t expecting any final-day miracles.
“At the moment I’m feeling a little bit pessimistic, but we will see when I wake up tomorrow,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult.”
Pinot slots into podium spot
The other big winner Friday was France’s Pinot, who climbed from fifth to third, now at 4:17 back.
The Frenchman, who won a stage and was fourth overall last year, will face a tough battle Saturday to defend his spot. Lopez is hovering close in fourth at 4:57 back and Carapaz is fifth at 5:44 back.
“Froome and Dumoulin are out of reach,” Pinot said. “I hope I have a good day Saturday to keep third. It would be a dream to step onto the podium in Rome with third.”