Giro d’Italia 2017
Meanwhile, the fight for pink intensified as race leader Dumoulin – having recovered from a “rookie error” that saw him dropped on an early descent – cracked on the brutal double-digit ramps of the final climb.
While the 26-year-old from Team Subweb rallied to limit his losses to his big rivals, Dumoulin now trails Colombian Quintana of Movistar by 38 seconds ahead of the final two stages of the 100th edition of the race.
Italian defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) stays in third place, but now just 43 seconds from the summit, while a late attack from the battling Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) saw the fourth-placed Frenchman reduce his deficit to just 53 seconds.
With Sunday’s 27.6km time trial into Milan ideally suited to Dumoulin’s strengths, Quintana will need to extend his lead over the Dutchman in Saturday’s last showdown in the mountains as the race enters its final weekend perfectly poised and very much in the balance.
Tom Dumoulin can’t say he wasn’t warned: moments after the Dutchman had publicly goaded his rivals Quintana and Nibali for conceding time to Pinot on Thursday, the Italian defending champion talked of “karma” raising its head on the road.
So when Dumoulin was caught out dozing towards the back of the peloton on a long, early descent, there was no chance that Nibali’s Bahrain Merida team were going to give him an easy ride.
Rumours spread like wildfire that Nibali and Quintana’s Movistar team had attacked when the race leader was taking a comfort break – but Dumoulin himself later told the media that he was simply caught out making a “rookie mistake” by riding too far back in the peloton with 130km remaining.
Until then, the 191km stage from Innichen to Piancavallo had followed a predictable script as a break of 14 riders – including Costa and Rolland – formed on the early Cat.3 Monte Croce before opening up a maximum lead of six minutes.
But after a climb to the first intermediate sprint, Dumoulin chose the wrong time to take his foot off the gas – and before he knew it, a split had torn open the peloton, resulting in a dramatic descent towards the feed zone.
At one point the maglia rosa was said to be two minutes down – and although the deficit gradually came down thanks to the pacing of Sunweb, Trek Segafredo and LottoNL-Jumbo, the high intensity of the racing spelled the end for the breakaway.
With the Dumoulin chasing pack yet to rejoin the rest of the peloton before the second climb of the day, the break was swept up shortly after the start of the Cat.2 Sella Chianzutan with 100km remaining.
Bahrain Merida and Movistar continued to pile on the pressure on the climb until Dumoulin returned to the fold alongside fellow Dutchmen Bauke Mollema (Trek Segafredo) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), and the white jersey of Adam Yates (Orica-Scott).
Once the big favourites had been reunited there followed a lull. Sniffing out an opportunity, the remnants of the day’s initial break counter-attacked with a host of fresh blood – including Landa, his Sky team-mate Sebastian Henao, and Astana’s Luis Leon Sanchez.
Two groups on the front joined on the descent – and with the GC favourites still taking a breather behind – the gap ballooned, reaching a maximum 13 minutes ahead of the final climb.
Dumoulin was no longer isolated with the return of his Sunweb team-mates to the swelling peloton – although a puncture to the maglia rosa with 55km remaining was a reminder that luck was not going the Dutchman’s way.
Sanchez attacked the break ahead of the final climb, sparking a response from Frenchman Rudy Molard (FDJ). Once Molard faded, Costa led the chase and was followed by Rolland and Landa. Costa – himself twice a runner-up in stages in this year’s enthralling race – caught and passed Sanchez, before Landa did just that to him.
With Landa entering the final 10km, the 27-year-old rode clear in pursuit of glory. He never looked back: the gap grew, and even after Rolland and Costa joined forces, the duo were unable to make any inroads on the rider whose GC hopes – like those of his now-withdrawn team-mate, Geraint Thomas – were ended by that collision with a motorcycle at the foot of Blockhaus on Stage 9.
Behind, Dumoulin was being made to suffer from his earlier efforts. Paced by his team-mate Simon Geschke, he lost contact with his rivals – who were being driven on by Nibali’s compatriot and team-mate, Franco Pellizotti.
Once the Dutchman was definitively dropped on the steepest 14% section of the climb, the first attack came from Pinot. Quintana had a scare when Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) attacked with Nibali, but he managed to close the gap with Mollema, Yates, Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and the impressive Czech, Jan Hirt (CCC Sprandi Polkowice).
As Landa rode to a victory which he dedicated to the late Michele Scarponi, his former team-mate at Astana, and Costa dropped Rolland to secure his bridesmaid’s finish of the race, Dumoulin continued his exercise in damage limitation.
Zakarin and Pozzovivo attacked with 2km remaining in pursuit of Pinot, who was the first of the big favourites to finish – coming home in 11th place, 8min 9sec down on Landa. The duo crossed the line six seconds later before Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) arrived alongside Yates and Quintana another six seconds back.
A split meant Nibali conceded two seconds to Quintana when he came home alongside Mollema and Hirt. There was then a tense wait until Dumoulin trudged home, 1min 7sec back.
While down, Dumoulin is by no means out. But the Dutchman will have to ensure he does not lose too much more ground tomorrow if he wants to have a realistic chance of regaining the pink jersey on Sunday’s curtain-closer.
The final mountain showdown is a 190km ride from Pordenone to Asiago which features the gruelling Monte Grappa and the twisting, steep climb to Forza ahead of a 15km rolling plateau to the finish. With Dumoulin looking to limit his losses once more – and his rivals needing to take a larger cushion going into Sunday’s ITT – expect more fireworks in this thrilling 100th edition of the Giro.