This Giro just goes from one controversy to another, it seems. But it also has some amazing moments – and we got both today at Stage 18. First, the joy. Tejay van Garderen finally took his first Grand Tour win, just days after doubting himself and his abilities. After outsprinting breakmate Mikel Landa, he sobbed uncontrollably with the relief of it all. Controversy? Seems Tom Dumoulin (still in pink) wasn’t enamoured with the (lack of) tactics from Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali.
Rider of the Race
What to say about Tejay van Garderen (BMC)? A rider who showed such great promise (and a bit of swagger) came to our GT attention in the 2012 Tour de France when, with a faltering returning champion Cadel Evans, TvG was named co-leader of the BMC team after a disastrous stage 16. He ended that Tour in 5th place overall and the winner of the Best Young Rider jersey. In 2014, he finished in 5th again (with the white jersey going to one Thibaut Pinot). And that was about it in the Grand Tour stakes. He kept trying, but his three-week racing never seemed to catch fire. In an interview with VeloNews a week ago, he said this:
Sometimes I tell myself, maybe I am not a grand tour rider. That doesn’t mean I am not a good rider. But other times I look at who’s up there, and wait a minute, I’ve beaten these guys before…
Whether today’s win will cast away some of those doubts, we don’t know. Maybe he should go for stage wins – he’s an excellent climber so why not go for summit glory in July without worrying about his standing? Whatever he decides to do, no one can take today away from him. Riding with Landa in a fairly big break all day, that break was whittled down to just the two by the time they hit the final climb. Working well with each other, they only started playing cat and mouse in the final kilometre. With a rampant Pinot riding for every second, they had to start their sprint and Landa found himself in front (again – flashback to Stage 16), which made it easier for TvG to get the jump to victory. A well-deserved win and an emotional one at that.
Anti-Rider of the Race
Did Nairo Quintana just not have the legs today or did he just not have the killer instinct to put some time into Dumoulin? His Movistarlets – along with Orica-Scott riding to put Adam Yates in the white jersey – certainly kept the pressure on the maglia rosa during the five climbs today but from what should have been the perfect tactics (put Winner Anacona and Andrey Amador in the break and have them fall back at the right moment) turned out to be a damp squib of a GC challenge by the Colombian. Quintana, however, does that a lot. Promise such feats of climbing wonder, only to sit on the wheel of the leader (he was stuck like glue to Chris Froome’s wheel for the past couple Tours) and – I don’t know – wait for them to crack? Mount an attack when he himself has little to lose because it’s about 500 metres from the finish?
Today, Dumoulin had only 31sec in hand and it was one of the most challenging stages of a challenging Giro, why didn’t Quintana launch attack after attack? There was a point on the final climb when it looked like Dumoulin was toying with both Q and Vincenzo Nibali. And we all just waited … and waited … and waited for this fabled attack. Poor Rob Hatch almost burst a blood vessel when Q put in a few digs – ‘this is it! this is the attack!’ – but he would sit up, look around, stay a few seconds out ahead until they bridged back to him. What kind of racing is that? He does know that there’s another TT on Sunday, right? He knows that Dumoulin is arguably the best TT rider in the peloton these days, right? (Yes, Tony Martin fans, I can hear you screaming.) I’m now actively believing that the “Quintana Potential” is just hype. I don’t think Q will ever wave to the crowd on the top step of the podium in Paris. The Colombian that is going to do that is going to be Esteban Chaves.
Gauntlet thrown. Challenge accepted
Tom Dumoulin has been giving some pretty straight-talking interviews this Giro. His explanation of his emergency stop in the stage on Tuesday left no doubt as to the cause. He then went on Twitter to tell fans that it wasn’t a problem for him that the other GC contenders didn’t stop while he sorted out his bibs – in fact, he sounded pretty philosophical about the whole thing. Yet today, he seemed to be fairly exasperated by the lack of racing from Quintana and Nibali – to the point of saying that he hopes they lose their podium spots.
Reaction to this on Twitter was mixed – a lot of people (including me) think he just said it like it was. Others thought it was immature and petty – and I can see their point. One rider who did not take kindly to the remarks was Vincenzo Nibali and this is what he said in reply:
Will this galvanise Nibali tomorrow to put in more attacks? To maybe combine forces with Quintana to do a number of Dumoulin on the (very steep) climb to the finish line? Will pride come before a fall for the Dutch rider (although not literally a fall, I hope)? Or has he got their number? We shall see tomorrow … Whatever happens, you can’t say this Giro is not without some spice …
When second is worse than third
You have to feel for Sky’s Mikel Landa – pipped at the post for the second time in three days and still looking for that stage win. That said, he did put more points into his maglia azzurra today and with 81 points ahead of his nearest rival (Luis Leon Sanchez) he has a very good chance of wearing it into the celebrations in Milan on Sunday. It might not be the pink he’s longed for but it certainly shows the peloton that, with a bit of luck and keener tactics, he might very well be a force to reckon with next year.
I’m very disappointed again – I wanted to win for the team. I’m really proud of them – they did a really nice job again. We have two more days and we will keep trying. The Maglia Azzurra has been a new motivation for me and today we did good work to help keep it until Milan.
When you work so hard for a stage win and you find yourself second, it’s quite a blow. But when you take a chance and get some time on your rivals in order to move nearer to a podium place, third becomes like first. And that’s what Thibaut Pinot did today. Pinot was one of the few riders who had anyone with him by the sharp end of the day, with FDJ teammate Sebastien Reichenbach, particularly, riding his heart out for his captain. Pinot sprang into action as Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin made a move in the last few kilometres of the stage, taking Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) with him and very nearly catching Landa and TvG in the final few hundred metres. In the end, he made up 1.02 on Nibs, Q and Big Tam, a mere 24sec off the third step of the podium. Allez, Pinot, allez!
1 Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) 3:54:04
2 Mikel Landa (Team Sky) same time
3 Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +0:08
4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) same time
5 Jan Hirt (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) +0:11
GC Top 5
1 Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) 80:00:48
2 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0:31
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) +1:12
4 Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +1.36
5 Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) +1.58
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb)
Points jersey: Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)
KOM jersey: Mikel Landa (Sky)
Best young rider: Adam Yates (Orica-Scott)
For full review of the stage, go to Cycling News