Dutchmen leading Grand Tours, eh? History says we shouldn’t get too excited just yet…

It’s true that we’ve been here before. At this point in last year’s Giro, Steven Kruijswijk looked a dead cert to win a maiden Grand Tour until he lost it over the tallest snow-capped peak of the race and eventually fell off the podium – to be denied by a resurgent pre-race favourite.
There’s still enough time for Dumoulin to do a Kruijswijk on the tallest and equally snow-capped peak of this year’s race – the Stelvio. A double chance, even, because the climb is tackled twice in one day on Tuesday.
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And don’t forget – Dumoulin has already seen the 2015 Vuelta slip between his fingers at the 11th hour, while another Dutchman, Bauke Mollema, was right up there in last year’s Tour before crumbling at the last.
That said, Dumoulin looks an entirely different prospect from the time-trialler-done-good of 2015. He’s deep in his transformation into becoming an all-round force to be reckoned with, and so far this May he’s been showing distinct shades of a certain Miguel Indurain.

High praise, indeed. So, how dominant has Dumoulin been?

Fernando Gaviria’s sprint exploits in his maiden Grand Tour aside, it’s fair to say that the Dutchman has been the stand-out star of the Giro so far. Having lost no significant time on the stages to Etna and Blockhaus, Dumoulin took the maglia rosa with a blistering performance in the ITT to Montefalco – and then extended that with a mountain-top victory at Oropa, while making Nairo Quintana look like a rookie on both occasions.

Dumoulin extends GC lead with Stage 14 win

In fact, there have been times when the towering Dumoulin and the pint-sized Colombian haven’t looked so much in a different league, as practising two entirely different sports. When a bad day consists of conceding six bonus seconds to a man you’ve already comprehensively humbled twice – well, you know it’s not a bad day by, say, Tejay Van Garderen or even Mollema standards.
At the moment, Dumoulin is like the school hunk cleaning up on the dance floor at the sixth form disco: all his fellow pupils clearly can’t stand his success, but they’re in awe of his skills.

So, it’s all over then?

It’s tempting to think so; Dumoulin leads Quintana by 2:41 and, on his day, will comfortably take a further two minutes from the Colombian on the final time trial. So, we’re looking at Quintana pretty much needing a five-minute swing between here and Monza next Sunday.

That sounds like a tall order

But it becomes a little shorter when you consider that the three mountain-top finishes we’ve had so far have been single, large climbs coming at the end of largely flat stages. Starting on Tuesday, the Giro enters the real mountains with stages in the Alps and Dolomites that could change the outlook of the race.
Stage 16 alone is a real brute: the Mortirolo alone would be considered a slap in the face to most riders – but chuck in a double ascent of the Stelvio to the equation, and we’re talking a punch to the guts and an elbow in the ribs. And try descending 20-odd kilometres to Bormio after that kind of assault on the body. We may be talking a 2:41 deficit now, but Quintana could well halve that – or even edge ahead on Tuesday.

But would there be any precedent for such a swing?

Quintana winning a snowy Stage 16 featuring the Stelvio wouldn’t be anything new: the Colombian did just that (albeit in controversial circumstances) in 2014, en-route to prising the maglia rosa from the shoulders of compatriot Rigoberto Uran.
Meanwhile, Dumoulin losing a Grand Tour after a late swing in the standings isn’t a novelty, either: leading the 2015 Vuelta a Espana with two stages remaining, he not only lost the red jersey to Fabio Aru, he dropped off the podium after imploding on the penultimate stage – eventually conceding the best part of four minutes.

Ah, so Dumoulin is doomed then?

Not necessarily. When he lost the Vuelta, he was only clinging to a slender six-second lead. He also had no opportunity to overturn those losses. This time around, Dumoulin could lose the same amount of time, and yet recover enough in the final day race against the clock. You could say that Dumoulin could afford to ride this Giro in a negative split – and yet, so far, he’s well ahead of himself.
As for Quintana, his form and mental state are questionable. He has not been as strong as we all presumed, while Dumoulin has been far stronger – so it’s been the equivalent of a football six-pointer. What’s more, the Colombian is clearly feeling the pressure: his crash on the descent on Sunday does not bode well ahead of a stage, on Tuesday, in which descending the 48 hairpin bends of the Stelvio may prove as important as ascending the climb’s two other routes.

Quintana crashes, Dumoulin stops the group

Should Quintana cut his losses and focus on the Tour de France?

It’s too early to say. If he finds his climbing wings on Tuesday – and if Dumoulin starts to climb as you’d expect from someone his shape and size – then the outlook could be very different. Those saying this Giro is over are clearly jumping the gun. Quintana started this season with lofty ambitions of winning the double – and he won’t be able to get close if he doesn’t win the Giro first.
Whatever anyone says, Quintana still has a better chance, now, of winning this Giro then he has, on 1st July, of winning the Tour de France. It would be folly to think otherwise, and it would be almost criminal for the Colombian to wave the white flag just yet.

But isn’t Dumoulin indestructible?

It appears so, but even the 26-year-old admitted to the media that so far he’s been riding to his strengths: he’s had the time trial to deliver a huge psychological blow, while the summit finishes have all suited his power climbing ability. What’s to come is very different.

Tom Dumoulin: It is a big advantage but we’ll see if it’s enough

Three arduous ascents on Tuesday could turn the race on its head; Stage 17 is ripe for an ambush; Stage 18 in the Dolomites takes place for the most part above 2,000 metres and pits a Colombian against a Dutchman (you do the maths); the final climb to Piancavallo in Stage 19 is more Dumoulin’s cup of tea, but is preceded by more climbs and rolling roads; and finally, Monte Grappa in Stage 20 could deliver the kind of knockout blow you’d associate with a climb named after such an alcoholic monstrosity.
The hangover could be so large even Dumoulin wouldn’t be able to battle through with hair of the dog on the final 27.6km time trial to Milan. And that’s without taking teams into account…

How do Sunweb weigh up against Movistar?

It’s like comparing Europa League to Champions League; a slice of brisket to a prime fillet; a glass of perfectly decent house rouge to a Brunello di Montalcino.
Movistar have more strength in depth than a submarine.
Rory Sutherland and Dani Bennati on the flats, Gorka Izaguirre, Jose Joaquin Rojas and Jose Herrada when the road heads uphill, then Victor de la Parte, Winner Anacona and Andre Amador to stick with Quintana for as long as possible in the high mountains.
Dumoulin’s lost his main climbing domestique – Wilco Kelderman – and while Laurens ten Dam, Georg Preidler and Simon Geschke have all been brilliant, it would be naïve to think that they can offer Dumoulin anything of the same calibre as the support on offer for Quintana.

Ah, so Quintana actually holds all the aces?

That would be overegging the pannacotta a bit but there is certainly an argument that says this race is still Quintana’s – rather than Dumoulin’s – to lose. It all depends on how deep the Colombian is prepared to dig ahead of his season’s second objective, the Tour. And also, just how far down the line Dumoulin is in his transformation from one-trick chrono pony to a climbing time-triallist in the mould of Indurain. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a thrilling journey for us fans.

What do you think will happen? Give us a prediction!

It’s hard to envisage Dumoulin cracking because he’s looked the consummate champion. But you’d think that he could be caught out on Tuesday and in the ultra-challenging stage in the Dolomites. We could see him gradually lose time every day this week until he hands over the reins ahead of Sunday’s time trial.

Highlights: Tom Dumoulin cruises to time trial win

But it may not be enough for Quintana. Which would mean the Colombian suffering the ignominy of leading the race on two separate occasions and losing it on both. Rubbing salt into the wounds and emphasising just where the ultimate difference was made, Quintana’s pink paraphernalia from the 100th edition of the race could come in the form of the two skinsuits he wore while taking out a short-term loan of the maglia rosa.

But what of the other riders battling for GC?

It looks like we’re going to see a fierce battle for the top ten – with the likes of Adam Yates, Davide Formolo and Dario Cataldo doing their best to join the current top ten; other than that, it’s going to be a battle for the final place on the podium, with one of Thibaut Pinot, Vincenzo Nibali and Ilnur Zakarin looking most likely to stand alongside Quintana and underneath Dumoulin in Milan.

So, basically, we should put our money on Domenico Pozzovivo or Bob Jungels to win the whole thing?

Ha! Yes, probably. Predictions, after all, are a fool’s game.
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