Colombia’s Nairo Quintana took possession of the Giro d’Italia pink jersey a day after Dutch rival Tom Dumoulin laughed off the Movistar climber’s tactics to “make me lose the race”.
Quintana, the 2014 champion who rides for Movistar, finished nearly eight and a half minutes behind Team Sky rider Mikel Landa after the Spaniard soloed over the finish in triumph following a 191km ride from San Candido to the summit finish at Piancavallo.
But it was enough to give the 2014 pink jersey winner, who saw Dumoulin make a “rookie mistake” and struggle throughout the fourth of five days in the mountains, the race lead two days before the 100th edition finishes in Milan.
Dumoulin, bidding to become the Giro’s first Dutch champion, dropped to second overall at 38secs with Italy’s two-time champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain) now third at 43, 10 secs ahead of Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).
With one final day in the mountains on Saturday’s 20th and penultimate stage from Pordenone to Asiago, Quintana now has his work cut out.
The 21st and final stage Sunday is a mainly flat time trial over 29.3 km from Monza to Milan — and Dumoulin was over two minutes faster than the Colombian on the 10th stage time trial last week.
“We have to try and take more time tomorrow,” said Quintana. “The time trial will be decisive.”
Sunweb team leader Dumoulin has produced some valiant efforts trying to save his pink jersey this week, including a brave solo climb over the formidable Stelvio climb following an embarrassing, unscheduled toilet stop.
But a day after sparking a spat with Quintana and Nibali, the Dutchman was given payback.
He shook hands with Nibali before the stage started, but Italy’s two-time winner was quickly involved when Movistar put the pedal to the metal on the descent of the first climb.
It caught Dumoulin cold, and he admitted: “I had bad legs from the start and I made a rookie mistake at the beginning, sitting at the back of the bunch on the downhill.
“Then Bahrain and Movistar split the bunch and I was in the second group and needed, with my bad legs, to go to the maximum to come back, in the middle of the stage. So that was really unnecessary.”
Throughout the stage, Dumoulin was in danger of losing the race lead after being isolated prior to the final, 15.4 km climb to Piancavallo.
Landa, who had been part of an earlier breakaway that built a lead of nearly 10 minutes, finished second to Tejay Van Garderen on Thursday.
But the Spaniard made no mistake when he attacked Rui Costa of Team UAE Emirates 10 km from the summit, going solo for most of the climb to finish nearly two minutes ahead of his Portuguese rival.
With a little over 8km to race, Dumoulin was left trailing as he struggled to match the pace being set by Nibali’s teammate Franco Pellizotti.
Pinot, who boosted his chances of a podium finish on Thursday, than attacked Nibali and Quintana’s group to close to within 10secs of the Italian.
American Tejay van Garderen sprinted to a first Grand Tour victory ahead of Team Sky’s King of the Mountains leader Mikel Landa on stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia, where Tom Dumoulin retained his overall advantage in the Maglia Rosa.
The 137 kilometres from Moena to a summit finish at Ortisei featured five categorised climbs through the Dolomites, which saw BMC Racing’s Van Garderen pass Landa on the final corner of the uphill finish with Frenchman Thibaut Pinot third for FDJ, crossing eight seconds behind.
Dumoulin, meanwhile, stayed out of trouble to tighten his grip on the leader’s pink jersey.
The Sunweb racer led Giro rivals Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali over the finish in ninth place, one minute and five seconds off the pace, so keeping his 31-second advantage over the Colombian.
Italian Nibali is one minute and 12 seconds off the pace in third place, while Pinot’s bonus times saw him as Thursday’s biggest mover, up to fourth in the general classification standings.
Van Garderen, 28, was delighted after dashing ahead of Landa, who once again had to be content with a second-place finish, but looks to be on course for the Maglia Azzurra.
“It has been a rough couple of years in Grand Tours as far as the general classification goes, but I did my best to try to keep the morale high. This is my first Grand Tour victory, so it’s an incredible feeling,” the American said on EurosportUK.
Other than the tactics of the attacks on the climbs which Dutchman Dumoulin mastered, there was little other drama – although Movistar rider Quintana almost collided with a race motorbike during the trek up the Passo Gardena.
British rider Adam Yates ended in the white jersey for the leading young rider, taking it from Bob Jungels, and the Orica-Scott racer is now ninth in the overall classification.
Quintana had initially managed to get some distance on Dumoulin with an early attack.
Dumoulin, though, had closed back up by the time of the final climb and even produced a couple of threatening breaks himself as Van Garderen and Landa were left with a sprint to the line after getting clear of Pinot and Italian Domenico Pozzovivo.
The 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia will finish with a time-trial in Milan on Sunday, where Dumoulin is expected to be able to fend off any challenges from the climbers.
The Dutchman was left less than impressed with the approach of his rivals during Thursday’s gruelling trek.
“I was feeling really good and did not lose any time to Quintana and Nibali, I did a little bit to the other contenders, because Vincenzo and Nairo were only focusing on my wheel,” he said.
“It was a bit of a strange tactic because their podium spot is also in danger now, and I really would like to see them losing it because of this riding.”
Stage 19 runs over 191km from Innichen/San Candido to Piancavallo.
An array of punishing climbs on the final week of the Giro d’Italia stand between time trial specialist Tom Dumoulin making history as the first Dutch winner of the race’s pink jersey.
But with a lead of over two and a half minutes on Colombian climbing specialist Nairo Quintana, and nearly four minutes on Italy’s two-time champion Vincenzo Nibali, triumph on the coveted 100th edition of the Italian race is now Dumoulin’s to lose.
“The third week will be very difficult,” Dumoulin has repeated every day since he took the race lead from Quintana with a crushing time trial victory at Montefalcone on stage 10.
And the towering Dutchman, with the smouldering film star looks, isn’t far wrong.
After a third and final rest day on Monday the pink jersey battle moves up a considerable notch Tuesday on a 16th stage which heralds the first of five consecutive days in the high mountains.
Quintana, the 2014 champion and a two-time runner-up at the Tour de France, should be in his element and hoping his Movistar team – as they have done so far – set the kind of punishing pace on the climbs that leave rival teams short of support riders.
On Sunday the diminutive Colombian thanked Dumoulin for slowing the pace of the peloton when he crashed on a descent 36 km from the finish line in Bergamo, so he could catch up.
“It was a nice gesture from a big rival and a great person,” said Quintana, who recovered sufficiently to finish second, just behind Luxembourg’s Bob Jungels but six seconds ahead of Dumoulin to reduce his arrears to 2:41.
But Quintana is unlikely to return the favour if Dumoulin – who has impressed so far on the easier climbing stages – is left behind him, and Nibali will be even less charitable on the descents.
Nibali, the defending champion who held off the threat of Colombian Fabio Duarte to win a snow-hit penultimate stage and seal his maiden pink jersey at Tre Cime di Lavaredo in 2013, sits fourth overall at 3min 40sec behind Dumoulin.
Like Quintana, Nibali has few options if he is to launch a late challenge for the main prize.