SEGOVIA, Spain (VN) — Every day in Spain, the tension is rising around the Vuelta a España for Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin). The Dutchman moved into the overall lead on Wednesday in the Vuelta’s time trial, and now has a 3-second buffer over climber Fabio Aru (Astana), who is trying to swipe the red leader’s jersey from his grasp.
Despite the tension and Aru’s multiple attacks in Thursday’s stage 18, Dumoulin looks calm and prepared to defend his lead to Madrid where the race ends Sunday.
“It’s the limit, it’s the limit for everybody at the moment,” Giant sport director Addy Engels told VeloNews after Thursday’s stage, in which Aru attacked a half-dozen times.
“There’s only 11 guys left at that moment and Aru is making a full-gas attack, he’s not going 90 percent. If guys like Aru go full-gas, you have to go full-gas to follow. What I saw on television, Tom looked really decent … Incredible, actually.”
Dumoulin defended himself over the Puerto de la Quesada and the following 13-kilometer downhill stretch to the finish line in Riaza. He will need to do so again Friday and more so on Saturday, when the Vuelta climbs the steeper Puerto de Cotos before descending 11km to Cercedilla.
Astana promised to do everything in its powers to unhinge the 24-year-old Dumoulin from the top. It has the experience to do so.
Astana manager Giuseppe Martinelli raced to multiple grand tour wins with Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador, and Marco Pantani, and under him, the 25-year-old Aru placed third in the 2014 Giro d’Italia. This year, Aru was second overall.
Giant and its directors, in comparison, have never raced for a grand tour victory.
“I have a lot of confidence, of course. Tom showed what he can do in the last two weeks, but you never know. If Astana starts to pull, then my stress level rises also. You know they are going to try up front, but then when they really start …” Engels said before pausing.
At one point on the final climb in Thursday’s stage, Astana was strung out in a long line. It had six men at the front with only one Giant rider — Dumoulin — sitting behind.
“I have the confidence he can follow and stay in the position, but it also depends, he has to stay good and strong, one moment of physical weakness is enough to have him dropped and then three seconds is nothing,” Engels said.
What viewers saw on television is close to the reality for Dumoulin. If he looked cool and composed when he matched Aru’s attacks, it’s because he was. He said he even tried to attack himself with 4km to race, adding he will try again when the moment is right.
“The tension is high, we are close to the finish of a grand tour and he has the leader’s jersey, so of course, that brings a lot of pressure, but I don’t notice him being scared or having a difference in character,” Engels said.
“It goes the other way around, Aru also has to stay on a level to be able to keep on attacking. At this moment in the race, the fitness of the riders in the top of the GC is more or less even. As long as Tom can continue this way for the next two days, then it looks promising.”