8 talking points from a dramatic final ‘week’ of the 2017 Giro d’Italia
The 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia is now complete, and there’s plenty to talk about. In this article we look back at the final ‘week’ of the race — stages 15 to 21 — and consider the moments and performances that stood out.
“Toilet-gate” was one of the most bizarre scenes we’ve seen in a bike race
When Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) pulled over to the side of the road late on stage 16 and took off his helmet and jersey, it was clear something was up. When the Dutchman clambered off the road and pulled down his knicks, it was clear the camera should probably be turned away immediately.
Thankfully that’s what happened, as all onlookers tried to work out what the bizarre development meant for the race.
Dumoulin was leading the Giro at the time, he was at the foot of the queen stage’s final climb, and his rivals were set to pounce. And while cycling’s unwritten rules would advise against attacking the Tour leader during a nature break, that didn’t stop the likes of Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and others increasing the pace.
It was a controversial moment, not least because, just days earlier, Dumoulin had made the peloton wait for Nairo Quintana (Movistar) when the Colombian crashed on a descent. There’s no clear right or wrong in a situation like this, and the fact GC contender Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) was up the road only complicated things further. But it certainly got people talking.
By the time Dumoulin got moving again, he was 90 seconds behind his GC rivals and while he had a teammate to help with the chase, it wasn’t long before he was on his own. Dumoulin’s chase back was impressive, but by the time he crossed the finish line he’d lost 2:18 to stage-winner Nibali and 2:06 to Quintana. Dumoulin remained in pink, but his lead had been slashed.
Of course Dumoulin isn’t the first rider to answer a serious call of nature during a bike race. In fact he himself had a similar issue at last year’s Tour de France. But it’s beyond unusual — perhaps even unprecedented — for a Grand Tour leader to be caught out in such a way, just before a big climb, on one of the race’s hardest days.
Mikel Landa had a great Giro after a terrible start
Mikel Landa’s hopes of a good GC result at this year’s Giro were dashed way back on stage 9 when the Sky co-leader was one of several riders to crash in the much discussed police moto incident. It was a disastrous day for Landa and his team — Geraint Thomas crashed too and later abandoned — but losing nearly half an hour that day gave Landa a sense of freedom he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Landa was a fixture in the breakaways of the final week, frequently setting off in search of stage victories. He was perfectly placed to win both stage 16 and stage 18, having attacked from the break in each, but on both occasions he made a meal of the two-up sprint.
On stage 16 Landa let former teammate Vincenzo Nibali pass him on the inside just before the line, and on stage 18 Landa effectively led out his rival, Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
But on stage 19, Landa was finally rewarded for his persistence. Again part of the day’s big break, Landa set off to join those who’d attacked from the move a little earlier, before going it alone with just less than 10km to go. He powered on to the finish to win by nearly two minutes.
It’s fair to say Landa salvaged an impressive Giro from what looked set to be a disaster for Team Sky. In addition to his stage victory he also took a big win in the King of the Mountains classification, with nearly twice as many points (224) as his nearest rival Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana; 118). But the question remains: how would Landa have gone if he hadn’t been caught up in that stage 9 crash; a crash he was near powerless to avoid?
If he’d been high up on GC coming into the final week, he certainly wouldn’t have had the same freedom to get up the road. But could he have been in with a chance of a high overall finish? His climbing on stage 14, which led him to fourth ahead of Nibali and Quintana, suggests he might well have been challenging for the podium. Then again, he did drop quite a bit of time to Nibali and Quintana in both time trials, so it’s hard to say.
But such is the way of bike racing. We’ll just never know.
Rolland finally got his win
The sight of Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) attacking was one that became very familiar throughout the Giro. He was frequently up the road in the break, and even translated his aggression into a third place on stage 11 (from the same group as stage winner Omar Fraile).
Coming into the final week, Rolland was 44th overall and no threat to the general classification. The Frenchman certainly had a chance of nabbing a stage win though.
On stage 17, the 30-year-old got himself in the break, then attacked 5km out front the line. While his breakaway companions looked at each other, waiting for someone to chase, Rolland opened enough of a gap to win the stage by 24 seconds.
It was an important result for Rolland — his first win for more than two years, his first for Cannondale-Drapac, and his first Grand Tour stage win for five years. It was also Cannondale-Drapac’s first Grand Tour stage win for more than two years and only the team’s second WorldTour victory in that time too (Andrew Talansky won a stage at the Amgen Tour of California earlier this month).
The win was a long time coming, and Rolland was predictably, and rightly, delighted.
Tejay van Garderen’s stage win was one of the Giro’s biggest feel-good moments
Tejay van Garderen (BMC) had a terrible start to the Giro d’Italia, a race he had started with high hopes of a good overall finish. He lost big chunks of time on stages 9, 10 and 11, and found himself more than half an hour off the pace coming into the final week. But like Landa, Van Garderen used his deficit to his advantage, getting up the road on stage 18, and ending up with just Landa for company coming into the final kilometres.
The pair had attacked from the remnants of the break on the lower slopes of the final climb, and rode strongly to hold off the chasers on approach to the finish in Ortisei/St. Urlich. Van Garderen said afterwards that he was worried about Landa in the sprint, but the American played it smarter than his Basque rival and dashed to victory by a decent margin.
As with Rolland, Van Garderen’s stage win was an important one. After so many setbacks at Grand Tours, and after so much doubt about his ability — both internal and external — Van Garderen had taken the opportunity that was presented to him, and come up trumps.
Would Van Garderen trade his stage win for a podium finish at the Giro? A top five? A top 10? Who knows. But the victory is a great example of why you should always keep your head up and try to find the positives in a bad situation. Hopefully he can build on this result and take some confidence into the rest of the season.
Might we see Van Garderen at the Tour de France in a support role for Richie Porte? Or will he rest up and rebuild for a tilt at the Vuelta a España?
Jos Van Emden saved LottoNL-Jumbo’s Giro at the last moment
When Steven Kruijswijk was forced to abandon the Giro after stage 19, citing stomach troubles, it capped off a frustrating few weeks for the Dutch outfit. Their main man hadn’t been near his best, thanks partially to a crash at the Tour de Yorkshire, and the rest of the outfit had toiled away for little reward.
But with Jos Van Emden’s ride in the final stage, the 2017 Giro became a success story for LottoNL-Jumbo. Thirty-two-year-old Van Embden scorched through Milan to post the fastest time of the day, faster even than compatriot and overall winner Tom Dumoulin. It was certainly the greatest result in Van Emden’s career and one that he very clearly enjoyed.
(Worth noting: Just four of the WorldTour teams in the race didn’t take a stage win: Katusha, Trek-Segafredo, Astana, and Ag2r-La Mondiale. The four Pro Continental teams left empty-handed as well, but’s that’s not nearly as noteworthy.)
Tom Dumoulin rode to his strengths
The big question going into the final week of the Giro was whether Tom Dumoulin would prove vulnerable in the long, hard, mountainous stages that would be raced in the north of Italy. He’d been strong on stage 14, winning on the uphill finish to Oropa, but that stage suited him perfectly. Would other stages prove as friendly?
It seems fair, now, to say that Dumoulin wasn’t the strongest climber at the Giro d’Italia. He was frequently put in difficulty by sharp attacks from Nibali, Quintana and others, and he ended up losing time on stage 16 (above and beyond his nature-break mishap), stage 19 (in which he lost the overall lead) and stage 20. Instead, it was with his time-trialling that Dumoulin won the Giro. Not just in the stage 10 and stage 21 individual time trials, but also on those mountain stages where he was put under pressure.
When he was dropped, Dumoulin reverted to his greatest strength: riding to a consistent, hard effort. In doing so he was often able to reduce his losses, fight his way back to those who had dropped him, or even catch and then pass his rivals (as on stage 14).
Of course, it was Dumoulin’s prowess on the designated time trial stages that led him to his first Grand Tour victory. His win in the stage 10 ITT saw him move into the overall lead, and his second place on the final stage saw him jump from fourth back to the top of the standings. In doing so he became the first Dutchman to win the Giro d’Italia and the first Dutch Grand Tour winner for 37 years. And a deserving winner he was too.
It’s been amazing three weeks
It feels like a lifetime ago that Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) was escaping the clutches of the peloton on stage 1 and riding away to an unlikely victory (and maglia rosa). That surprising but hugely entertaining result set the scene for the three weeks ahead; three weeks full of exciting racing, the occasional controversy, and a bunch of superb performances.
Fernando Gaviria’s performance in the sprints was one of the highlights of the Giro, particularly his swerving victory on stage 13. Jan Polanc’s hold-out victory on Mt. Etna sticks in the memory, so too does Omar Fraile’s gritty win on stage 11. And then there was Tom Dumoulin’s dominance against the clock, and the repeated attacks of Nibali, Quintana, Zakarin, Pinot and co when the road tilted up.
There was a real sense of variety to the race too. While Gaviria took four sprint wins, Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) hit the winners’ list too. And no single rider dominated in the mountains — Nibali, Quintana, Dumoulin, Landa, Van Garderen, Rolland and Thibaut Pinot all took stage victories on those tough days.
Interestingly, in 21 stages, we also saw winners from 12 different nations. That’s an all-time record at the now-100-year-old Giro d’Italia. Importantly for the race and its Italian fans, the home nation didn’t go empty-handed, thanks to Nibali’s brilliance on stage 16.
But perhaps the best thing about the 2017 Giro was its nail-biting conclusion.
The stage 21 time trial was a thrilling final chapter for the race
In the past three editions of the Tour de France, the overall lead hasn’t changed from stage 10 onwards. In 2014 Nibali led for all but one day after stage 2, in 2015 Chris Froome lead from stage 7, and in 2016 Froome led from stage 8. The 2017 Giro d’Italia was far more exciting.
The top four on GC traded positions frequently from stage 9 onwards, with Dumoulin fluctuating from first to fourth; Quintana moving between first, second and third; Nibali sitting anywhere from second to fifth; and Pinot occupying second, third and fourth.
It all meant that, coming into the final stage of the Giro d’Italia, the top four places on the general classification looked something like this:
Dumoulin was expected to take time on all those above him, and Pinot was expected to post a strong result too. But in the end, it wasn’t until the very last kilometre of the Giro that we knew who’d won it.
It was a thrilling conclusion to the season’s first Grand Tour and an argument for Grand Tours to end with a time trial far more often. While a processional final stage might be good for the sprinters, it means the race is “live” for one less day. With a time trial, it can literally go down to the very last metres of the race.
In the end, the most deserving winner won the 2017 Giro d’Italia. Dumoulin was strongest against the clock, good enough in the mountains, and above all, resilient to all the challenges his rivals threw at him. I think we can all agree that it’s a good thing the 2017 Giro d’Italia wasn’t decided by a nature break.
What else did you take from the 2017 Giro d’Italia? What stood out to you?