Giro d'Italia

Giro: Dumoulin prepares for pink defense across explosive Dolomites

Thursday's stage 18 contains five climbs and could potentially shake up the GC standings.

CANAZEI, Italy (VN) — If this Giro d’Italia has been on a slow simmer so far, things could finally boil over in Thursday’s short, potentially explosive climbing stage across the heart of the Dolomites.

The five-climb, 137-kilometer stage 18 tackles some of the Giro’s most spectacular country, climbing such iconic summits as Passo Pordoi and Passo Gardena. It may present the best and perhaps last chance for the climbers to shake race leader Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).

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After a pair of long, arduous days that included 441km of racing in the final week of the race, the Giro is reaching the breaking point.

The pink jersey could go to whoever has a great day.

“It’s like my home in Maastricht,” joked Dumoulin, who hails from the flats of the Netherlands. “It will be full-gas from the start. I just have to stay calm and see what happens.”

The Giro is a very different race following Tuesday’s disaster for Dumoulin, who lost a big chunk of his advantage when he had to make an emergency pit stop at the base of the day’s final climb. Instead of nursing almost three minutes to the climbers, he now leads Nairo Quintana (Movistar) by just 31 seconds. Two-time Giro champ Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) is 1:12 back.

“Tomorrow is a challenging stage, up and down all day,” Nibali said of Thursday’s route. “For sure, Nairo will be watching me, and it will be hard to try to get away. I am not just aiming for the podium, but rather for maglia rosa, and so is he.”

The key will be if Quintana, Nibali, and French climber Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), now fourth at 2:38, can finally shake the stubborn Dumoulin. On Wednesday, the big Dutchman said he made it through the long trudge into the Dolomites without too many difficulties. Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) won the stage, but Sunweb was under pressure to chase to defend the pink jersey.

Dumoulin said he’s ready for all takers, despite the dramatically altered GC picture and losing another teammate after Phil Bauhaus abandoned.

“We will be ready for everything,” Dumoulin said. “I was very disappointed and angry with myself [Tuesday], because I had good legs yesterday. I think I would have been up there with Nibali and Quintana, and not lost any time at all. I would have had a big margin coming into the final three mountain stages. If I have a bad moment or bad day, now I can lose the jersey, and that’s the biggest setback from yesterday.”

Quintana lurks

Sitting in pole position to take over if Dumoulin tumbles is Quintana, who’s been a bit inconsistent so far in this Giro. At Blockhaus, he took important gains en route to victory and the pink jersey. At Oropa, he followed the same blueprint but couldn’t hold the power, allowing Dumoulin to come over the top. And on the final climb up the Stelvio on Tuesday, he couldn’t follow late accelerations by Nibali and didn’t take chances on the descent.

“We will fight to take time to have a margin ahead of the time trial in Milan,” Quintana said. “There will be a lot of attacks. We have to take advantage of the terrain.”

Nibali, too, senses that Thursday is his make-or-break chance to take control of the Giro. Former teammate Luís León Sánchez (Astana), who won the Mortirolo prize in honor of Michele Scarponi, believes Nibali has the advantage.

“I think [Thursday] will see one of the GC riders win because it’s short, the pink jersey is on the line, and the top riders will want to race for the victory,” Sánchez said. “I think Nibali is looking strongest right now.”

On top of the GC implications, there are stage-hunters who won’t back down — such as Mikel Landa (Sky), who was pipped at the line Tuesday by Nibali.