Van Garderen clinches maiden Grand Tour stage win, Dumoulin toys with rivals
American Tejay Van Garderen clinched his maiden Grand Tour scalp on Stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia, edging out Mikel Landa of Spain in a two-way sprint on a dramatic day in the Dolomites. Felix Lowe brings you an intriguing stage in northern Italy.
The BMC all-rounder outfoxed fellow escapee Landa of Team Sky to take an emotional win while the fireworks fizzled behind as the battle for pink intensified at the conclusion of the stunning 137km stage over five beautiful – yet gruelling – climbs.
Frenchman Thibaut Pinot pipped Italy’s Domenico Pozzovivo for third place eight seconds in arrears after the duo took advantage of a stalemate between the maglia rosa, Tom Dumoulin, and his two big rivals, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali, on the final climb.
Dutchman Dumoulin led the trio home 1min 6sec down for ninth place to concede time to most of the general classification outsiders – but deliver a psychological blow to the defending champion, Nibali, and the 2014 winner, Quintana.
Russia’s Illnur Zakarin and Dutchmen Steven Kruijswijk and Bauke Mollema all made inroads after finishing ahead of the big three following numerous attacks as the gradient flattened following the summit of the final climb and Dumoulin toyed with his exhausted opponents.
There was a superb fifth place finish for Slovakia’s Jan Hirt – who was part of the day’s main break alongside Van Garderen and Landa. Britain’s Adam Yates also finished strongly to move back into the top ten and take over the white jersey from Bob Jungels of Luxembourg, who was dropped on the penultimate climb and finished almost four minutes in arrears.
While Van Garderen’s belated win kick-started his career after a series of setbacks, the day belonged to Team Sunweb’s Dumoulin, whose grip on the maglia rosa looks as strong as his rivals look bereft of ideas. Despite stinging attacks from both Quintana and Nibali on the Passo Gardena, Dumoulin was able to ride back in contention and control the race like a future champion.
With three stages remaining of the 100th edition of La Corsa Rosa, Dumoulin leads Movistar’s Quintana by 31 seconds and Bahrain Merida’s Nibali by 1min 12secs. FDJ’s Pinot – the big winner of the day – has closed the gap by over a minute to 1min 36sec while Zakarin of Katusha-Alpecin is 1min 58sec down in fifth.
How the stage was won
Played out under balmy blue skies around the spectacular terrazza delle Dolomiti – the terrace of the Dolomites – on the resplendent Selle Group of mountains, Stage 18 was pure joy for the spectators, less so for those forced to ride over the succession of five peaks, including three that rose above two-thousand metres.
An early break of four riders opened up a gap on the first climb of the day, the famous Passo Pordoi, while a flurry of attacks came from a main pack that was strung out from the outset. Among those chasing on were Van Garderen, Landa, Hirt of CCC Sprandi Polkowice, Cannondale-Drapac trio Joe Dombrowski, Davide Villella and Stage 17 winner Pierre Rolland, and Movistar duo Andrey Amador and Winner Anacona.
The two leading groups came together on the descent as a large break of 19 riders formed with Landa’s Team Sky colleagues Diego Rosa and Philip Deignan driving the pace as the gap opened up to two minutes going onto the Passo Valparola.
Landa, wearing the maglia azzurra, was denied maximum points going over the summit by fellow Basque rider Omar Fraile of Dimension Data. But despite his setback of missing out on a second possible stage win, Landa did take maximum points over the next three climbs to build up a near unassailable lead in the King of the Mountains classification.
Dumoulin, who had been isolated on the first climb, was now surrounded by all five of his remaining Sunweb team-mates as the pace slowed following the establishment of the day’s road hierarchy. But with Quintana boasting two team-mates in the break, it was clear that Movistar had a plan up their sleeves.
And that plan was put into practice on the third climb of the day, the Passo Gardena, when the Colombian danced clear of a select group of GC favourites with 54km of the stage still remaining. By now devoid of team-mates, Dumoulin was put under further pressure when Nibali also put in a big attack near the summit – the Italian managing to bridge over to Quintana, who himself had joined forces with Anacona and Amador up the road.
If cracks appeared to be forming in Dumoulin’s bid to win this Giro d’Italia, they were quickly covered over when the powerful 26-year-old kept his cool and managed to drag a group of other top-tenners back to his big rivals just as they crested the summit.
Order was restored on the long descent towards the final climb, which was interrupted only by the short Passo di Pinei Panidersattel with 40km remaining. By now, Jungels had been dropped while the only riders still out ahead were Landa, Van Garderen, Hirt, Dombrowski, Villella and Natnael Berhane of Dimension Data - the only remnant of the initial four-man move at the start of the stage.
With the gap down to just 35 seconds ahead of the final climb, Landa and Van Garderen broke clear of their fellow escapees and opened up a small gap going onto the Cat.1 climb of Pontives.
Movistar duo Amador and Anacona set the tempo in the main pack – but the pace was such that the leaders managed to extend their advantage. Meanwhile, Quintana, frequently speaking into his radio, looked to be struggling. After Amador peeled off, Anacona rode clear before Quintana finally made his move with 7km remaining.
But the Colombian’s attack was thwarted by Pinot and FDJ team-mate Sebastian Reichenbach. After another session on the radio, Quintana dropped back alongside Dumoulin and Nibali as the group swept up Villella, Dombrowski and Berhane.
Following a short-lived surge from Nibali, Dumoulin showed his strength by dancing clear. But the Dutchman, apparently toying with his rivals, then took his foot off the gas and invited the others to come forward. Pinot and Pozzovivo took advantage of the situation before Kruijswijk, Mollema and Zakarin were forced to lead the chase.
As the summit neared, Dumoulin was content to ride alongside Nibali and Quintana as the three came to a near standstill. While this game of cat and mice continued, Pinot and Pozzovivo led their chase on the leaders – and despite catching Hirt on the cobbled home straight, the duo could only come within eight seconds of the two leaders.
Landa clearly did not learn any lessons from his loss to Nibali in Bormio two days earlier, the Spaniard being pickpocketed by Van Garderen who surged over the line to take a belated Grand Tour stage win at the age of 28.
The final few kilometres of false flat could well have suited Dumoulin’s time trialling skills – but the Dutchman seemed content to soft-pedal to the line alongside Nibali and Quintana. If it proves a dangerous game – with Pinot stealing back 1min 2sec – then Dumoulin was quick to point out that Nibali and Quintana potentially stood to lose more than himself.
Tensions indeed simmered after the stage as Dumoulin, growing in stature in pink, belittled his rivals’ tactics as he took another step towards a maiden Grand Tour victory.
Having crashed out or withdrawn from three of his previous four Grand Tours, Tejay Van Garderen drew a line under his recent run of bad luck with a superb win to deny Landa for a second time in three days. His own GC hopes were scuppered after he cracked on Blockhaus and the subsequent time trial to Montefalco, Van Garderen took solace in a long-awaited victory which showcased his climbing ability and showed, perhaps, where his future best lies.
But special mention must go to both Thibaut Pinot and Tom Dumoulin. Pinot closed the gap on his rivals by over a minute and revived his bid for a podium finish in Milan. Dumoulin, meanwhile, showed that he does not need team-mates to win this Giro. His success on Thursday was a victory of composed climbing over the explosion of power of his rivals, Dumoulin able to use his power meter to close the gap while making Quintana and Nibali look silly in the process.
What they said
Tejay Van Garderen: “It's been a rough couple of years in Grand Tours as far as the general classification goes, but I did my best to keep the morale high. It's my first Grand Tour victory, so it's an incredible feeling, especially in an area like this, that I'm so familiar with – I've done a lot of camps here, so I knew every inch of the roads. It feels incredible to get this victory.”
Tom Dumoulin: “They [Quintana and Nibali] are only focusing on me and trying to make me lose instead of trying to win. In the last moments, they lost a lot of time to the other competitors. I really hope that riding like this they will lose their podium spot in Milan, that would be really nice, and I would be really happy.
“It would be a dream scenario if the other competitors didn't get any closer, but now Thibaut Pinot almost took a minute on me just because Nibali and Quintana made a pact, clearly. It's their right, but it would be nice if they lose their podium spot for that behaviour. I was feeling strong so I decided to show them that I'm also awake.”
Vincenzo Nibali: "There is karma - Dumoulin can pay on the road for what he said."