OROPA, Italy (VN) — Nairo Quintana (Movistar) followed his familiar script: one surge, put everyone in the red. A second, draw out a brave soul; a third, turn the screws. A fourth, and he’s gone.
Only this time, on the relatively steady slopes of the Oropa climb Saturday in the decisive 14th stage at the Giro d’Italia, there wasn’t the Hollywood ending he was looking for. The Colombian climber turned on the turbos with 4km to go, but rather than solo home to victory, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) did the unfathomable. The Dutchman came over the top, gapped Quintana, and won the stage to tighten his grip on the maglia rosa.
Quintana was searching for answers at the finish line as his gap to Dumoulin went the wrong way, widening to 2:47.
“It as different than what we had hoped,” Quintana admitted. “Dumoulin made a great climb. I tried with all my forces and it wasn’t enough.”
Will Quintana once again fall short in a grand tour against a superior time trialist who can climb? He’s certainly hoping history doesn’t repeat itself during this Giro.
He’s twice been runner-up and third once to Chris Froome (Sky) at the Tour de France, where the major winning gaps for the Englishman came against the clock.
Quintana came into this Giro as the big favorite to win the pink jersey, yet as the “corsa rosa” edges toward the decisive final week, he finds himself in the all-too-familiar scenario of butting heads against a rider who keep him on a short leash in the mountains, and take out crushing differences against the clock.
And with a final-day time trial waiting in Milan — where many expect Dumoulin to be able to take at least one minute against the climbers — things are going in the wrong direction for Quintana.
The Colombian, who is taking on the challenge of the Giro-Tour double this year, came into the Italian race hoping to taper into top form in the final week. The ever-more-confident Dumoulin, who’s so far proven stubborn in the mountains, is throwing a wrench into those plans. To win this Giro, Quintana will have to be at his absolute best in the final week.
“I tried with all my strength today, and it wasn’t enough,” Quintana said. “On the positive side, we’ve distanced some of the rivals, and now the race is me against the leader [Dumoulin). The legs responded, and the data is good, but Dumoulin is strong right now. We still have a lot of Giro ahead of us.”
[pullquote align=“left” attrib=”Nairo Quintana”]”I tried with all my strength today, and it wasn’t enough. Dumoulin is strong right now. We still have a lot of Giro ahead…”[/pullquote]
Saturday’s summit finale to Oropa certainly won’t be the climb that decides the Giro, but it was a day that Quintana wanted to claw back time. Instead, he ceded 24 seconds in the wrong direction.
Dumoulin looks to be taking a page from the Chris Froome manual on how to win a grand tour. After steamrolling through Tuesday’s time trial, Dumoulin is clearly in the driver’s seat, with a comfortable lead to Quintana and widened his gap to more than three minutes to the others.
“I never panicked when Quintana attacked,” Dumoulin said. “The Giro is still very much open. We haven’t even climbed half the climbs yet. The last week will be very hard, and a lot can happen. I am still a little bit afraid of the last week.”
Without overlooking Sunday’s lumpy finale into Bergamo, featuring two late climbs and a punchy, cobblestoned hill to the line, four climbing stages remain for Quintana to try to not only erase the difference to Dumoulin, but add at least another minute going into the final stage at Milan. That’s a big ask, even for Quintana.
Davide Cassani, the Italian national team coach, said the multi-climb stages waiting in the final week will present a new type of challenge for Dumoulin, who so far has been fending well on the one-climb finales that have been featured so far in the Giro.
“It’s not over for Quintana or the other climbers,” he said on RAI. “The longer stages with three, four climbs, and four thousand meters of climbing are different to what we’ve seen so far. On a bad day, a rider like Dumoulin could lose two or three minutes in one stage.”
With other rivals, such as Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Bauke Mollema), also ceding time Saturday, the final week looks like a classic showdown between a pure climber, and a time trialist who can defend well in the mountains.
Sound familiar? It could be a repeat of the Quintana-Froome duels we’ve seen in the past few Tours.
Quintana knows all-too-well how that script has ended, especially at the Tour de France, but he also remembers how he snatched away the Vuelta a España last summer when Froome was caught napping in the Pyrénées. And everyone recalls how Dumoulin cracked in the final climbing stage in the 2015 Vuelta.
It might require a similar coup to win this Giro.