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by Shane Stokes
May 21, 2017
Photography by Cor Vos
It wasn’t quite the performance of Pantani in 1999, when he recovered from a mechanical problem to pass all the riders in front of him and win the stage, but Tom Dumoulin put in his own dominant ride to Oropa on stage 14.
The Dutchman knew the stage would be important for his hopes of defending his lead and, ultimately, winning the race. Nairo Quintana seemed the big danger but started the day two minutes 23 seconds back overall. He knew that he not only had to try to win the stage, but also to take time back from his main rival.
However although he got clear with Ilnur Zakarin and Domenico Pozzovivo with four kilometres to go and then pushed on solo 700 metres later, the pink jersey was staging his own comeback behind. He had been sitting further back when the attack went and was even slightly distanced, but was pacing himself.
Rather than going into the red with a surge he gradually increased his pace, moved to the front of the chase group and, metre by metre, reeled in Quintana.
He then, audaciously, attacked and briefly gapped the Colombian. He then continued to push the pace in order to gain time over the dropped Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and, when he answered a surge by Zakarin with 250 metres to go, realised that they had dropped Quintana and the other rider in the group, Mikel Landa (Team Sky).
That gave Dumoulin an important psychological boost and, to his own surprise, he was able to get back to Zakarin, whip past and take the stage win.
Asked if he thought beforehand that he would not only beat Quintana but also gain time on him, he admitted that he didn’t.
“No,” he said with a smile. “Of course, you dream about hitting back. I knew they would attack and they did. It was very hard, but I was always with my focus. I was quite relaxed. I couldn’t follow the first attack from Quintana so I had to take my own pace, a little bit. I came closer and closer and at the end I still had something left for the finish. It was really incredible.”
When Zakarin surged, he said that he initially thought he was racing for a minor placing. “He accelerated and I thought, ‘okay, at least I have time on Nibali, Pinot and Mollema and those guys. So I’ll just try to follow now.’ But then I heard and saw that Quintana was dropped, and I was full gas to the line. I even had the legs to pass Zakarin. It was really, really nice.”
The Russian took second, three seconds back, with Landa nine seconds behind in third. Quintana, surprisingly, lost 14 seconds, while Pinot was a further 21 seconds down in fifth. Adam Yates was sixth at 41 seconds, Vincenzo Nibali seventh at 43 and Mollema only 22nd, conceding one minute 44 seconds and sliding from third to sixth.
Together with the time bonus on offer, Dumoulin adds 24 seconds to his overnight advantage over Quintana. He is now two minutes 47 ahead, with Pinot three minutes 25 back in third. Nibali, Zakarin and Mollema are fourth through to sixth, between three minutes 40 and four minutes 32 behind.
Quintana, as expected, was deflated by what had happened.
“There was a bit of wind. I thought that this climb was better but finally Tom is in really good condition, and he won this time.”
“Movistar tried to take the opportunity to take time back. We will keep trying.”
The race is far from over, but Dumoulin sent a very big signal to his rivals and scored an important psychological blow.
Still, he’s taking nothing for granted. “It it is a big advantage going into the last week, but we will see if it is enough,” he said. “This is of course [the type of] stage that really suits me – flat, and an uphill finish. But the last week will be much different. There’s a lot of climbing to do. We are far from Milan.”