They say a picture speaks a thousand words. I say 500 is a more realistic figure.
To fully appreciate this photo – three Giro rivals finishing a minute after the stage winner – you have to understand a little about the 2015 Vuelta Espana. It also helps to know the personalities of the men in the picture. On the right is the swashbuckling defending champion, owner of one of the peloton’s most fiery temperaments. The rider on the left is stubborn, quiet and traditionally stoic. In the middle is the figure of Tom Dumoulin. He’s wearing the Maglia Rosa but beginning to feel as though the Grand Tour Gods are conspiring against him. A few corners earlier, the three had ground a halt and refused to turn a pedal in earnest.
Dumoulin started the 2015 Vuelta as a promising powerhouse and ended a brave contender with a massive future. He was the rider of the race yet came only sixth. He wore the leader’s jersey for six days, but blew up on the Puerto de la Morcuera and lost four minutes. He turned us into believers; then let a stunning Grand Tour victory fall through his hands.
He was strong the following year and marked the 2017 Giro as the finish of his transition to GC star. Teammate Laurens ten Dam had called him after the route reveal and urged him to make it his target.
Stage 9 to Blockhaus was the first test of mettle for the favourites; Nairo Quintana danced to a twenty-four second victory, Vincenzo Nibali chased hard before cracking, and Dumoulin paced himself to an impressive third place. ‘Big Tom’ mashed his rivals on the following time trial and again on the finish in Oropa. He held pink by nearly three minutes.
Dumoulin found stage 16 to Bormio much less fun. He suffered bad stomach cramps and stopped to relieve himself. Nobody waited and he lost over two minutes. Though a chunk of time was lost for his personal pit stop, he also struggled on the last climb. Just as in 2015, Dumoulin’s ambitions were in serious doubt. A war of words ensued but Nibali (who had won stage 16 and was up to third) refused to show any remorse. Quintana acted oblivious but was now just thirty seconds from the lead.
The photo is from the end of stage 18, after five major obstacles had been tackled. Dumoulin was tested by both Movistar and Bahrain but pulled things together for the final climb. Every rider in the group attacked but Dumoulin only had eyes for his closest rivals. When fourth-placed Thibault Pinot launched a big attack everybody looked to Dumoulin, but the Maglia Rosa refused to be bullied. The top three began to soft-pedal and exchanged long stares. Nibali and Quintana were Grand Tour winners and believed the younger Dumoulin would blink. One by one the remaining GC riders attacked, eager to profit from the standoff occurring behind.
The three rolled home to moderate and unnecessary losses but Dumoulin had rattled his rivals. In the immediate aftermath Nibali was furious by Dumoulin’s arrogance and disrespect to the Maglia Rosa. He questioned why it was his job to carry Dumoulin ‘in an armchair to Milan’. Dumoulin, fuelled by his Bormio losses, happily joined the table for a game of chess. Perhaps now ‘The Shark’ would acknowledge the bold strategy as something he would have done if roles were reversed.
An exhausted Dumoulin suffered from isolation and fell to fourth by the time trial in Milan. But this Dumoulin was a calm and confident beast. He delivered the required performance and took his Giro victory.