Kittel (or Roglic) could take pink — here’s how

Marcel Kittel is two good sprints and a bit of math away from the maglia rosa, but Tom Dumoulin will fight to keep his lead.

APELDOORN, Netherlands (VN) — Marcel Kittel is two good sprints away from the maglia rosa.

If Kittel’s form is good, his fifth-place ride in Friday’s 9.8km time trial sets him up to take pink before the Giro d’Italia returns to Italy. The German sprinter is currently 11 seconds behind Tom Dumoulin, with a maximum of 32 bonus seconds available over the next two stages. The math is very much in Kittel’s favor.

The pink jersey isn’t Kittel’s primary motivation, but his goal of taking stage wins could result in the race lead by default. No other sprinter is close enough to take the lead before the race leaves the Netherlands.

“Taking the pink jersey isn’t my priority, my focus is only on the flat stages and the sprints,” Kittel said, indicating that he may not contest the intermediate sprint points. “I will be happy if today’s result will help me don the maglia rosa, but I’m not going to put extra pressure on my team for this”

Each finish features a bonus of 10, 6, and 4 seconds for first through third place. Each stage also features two intermediate sprints worth 3, 2, and 1 second for the top three.

It’s unlikely that Kittel will win both stages and all four intermediate sprints, or that he’ll even try. But he doesn’t need to. A single stage win and a single intermediate — or a stage win and a third place, or two second place stage finishes — all provide the time he needs to snatch pink off Dumoulin’s shoulders.

To defend his jersey, Dumoulin will need to take bonus seconds. It’s unlikely that the Dutchman will attempt to snag them at the finish line — he has GC ambitions, after all, and mixing it up with the sprinters is a good way to crash out early — but he could certainly line up for a few at the intermediates. With no other sprinters in contention for the pink jersey following Friday’s time trial, Dumoulin may be the only rider who cares to sprint for anything but the finish line.

Dumoulin will have to watch out for LottoNL-Jumbo’s Primoz Roglic, who trails by less than a second. Roglic just needs a top three in any of the intermediate sprints to take the pink jersey. If he sprints, Dumoulin will have to match him.

This particular strategy could be made difficult by the placement of the intermediate sprints. On Saturday, both fall in the final third of the course, at a point where a breakaway is still likely to be up the road. It’s the same story on Sunday, where one falls around the halfway point, and the second sits 54km from the end of the 190km stage. A breakaway up the road would prevent both Kittel and Dumoulin from taking any bonus seconds. If Dumoulin is going to go for the sprints, watch for Giant-Alpecin to hit the front and reel back the breakaway earlier than usual on Saturday.

If Dumoulin wants to hang on to pink through the weekend and beyond, he’ll want to grab at least six seconds, pushing his lead over Kittel past 16 seconds. Doing so would require Kittel to bag back-to-back wins. One win and a second place would not longer be enough.