If the 2017 Giro d’Italia were to be pitched as a movie, the premise would hardly be a promising one: a lanky rouleur distances his rivals in the long time trial at the start of the second week, manages his advantage sagely thereafter, and then seals overall victory with a measured ride in the time trial on the final day.
The synopsis, however, does little justice to the drama of the race. The Giro is never that simple, and the 2017 edition was gripping all the way through. The real beauty of this year’s race came in the dramatic ad libs that saw the script revised on a daily basis, even if – in hindsight – the overarching narrative should have been apparent from the moment he limited his losses so ably on the first true summit finish at the Blockhaus: this was a Tom Dumoulin joint, and everybody else was in a supporting role.
Nairo Quintana lined up in Sardinia as favourite to complete the first leg of a Giro-Tour double, and seemed to copper-fasten that status by soloing to victory atop the Blockhaus on stage 9. The mass crash at the base of the climb that eliminated Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa from GC contention perhaps also distracted from the key takeaway – Dumoulin was a bona fide contender. Two days later, however, Dumoulin delivered a blockbuster time trial performance on the rough roads of the Sagrantino vineyards at Montefalco to take the maglia rosa and command top billing for the remainder of the race.
When the Dutchman showcased his range by dropping Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali et al on the haul to Oropa on stage 14, it seemed as though the Giro was already over as a contest, but – not for the first time in the corsa rosa¬ – an improbable plot twist kept things ticking along agreeably in the final week.
If the Giro was the best stage race of 2017, then stage 16, the tappone to Bormio, was arguably the single most dramatic day of racing in the entire year. There were murmurs beforehand that Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida and Quintana’s Movistar teams would find common cause in a bid to discommode Dumoulin, and their task suddenly seemed a little more straightforward when the maglia rosa disappeared into the bushes on the roadside at the base of the Umbrailpass for a most urgent toilet break.
Although the pace in the leading group briefly relented amid the confusion as to Dumoulin’s whereabouts and wellbeing, the Giro can ultimately wait for no man, not even the maglia rosa. As Dumoulin remounted and desperately sought to limit his losses, Nibali delivered a brace of rasping attacks that seemed to trouble even Quintana himself.
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