Since the 2018 Giro d’Italia route was announced last November, one day has loomed large: Tuesday 22 May, date of the 34.2km time trial from Trento to Rovereto. With the race delicately poised after a series of mountain-top battles between Lancashire’s Simon Yates and last year’s winner Tom Dumoulin, those expectations look set to be fully justified.
There is an exquisite irony in the focus on a single time trial during a Giro packed with legendary and fearsome ascents: Etna, Gran Sasso, Monte Zoncolan, the Colle delle Finestre and Monte Jafferau. But this time trial always suggested a scenario for the 2018 race which has a simplicity about it which is both brutal and beautiful: Dumoulin will gain time here in spades, so it is up to his rivals to gain it elsewhere.
So it has proved, with Yates and his Mitchelton-Scott team making no bones about their mission to chip away at Dumoulin day by day, helped by the fact that the race organisers offer time bonuses of 10 seconds per stage win. Overall victory in Rome on Saturday could be decided by those bonuses, meaning in theory that Dumoulin could cover the 3,000km route in a faster overall time than Yates, yet still lose.
Until Sunday’s stage to the Sappada ski resort, it looked as if Dumoulin might keep Yates on a sufficiently short leash for him to be confident that he could relieve the Briton of the pink leader’s jersey on Tuesday, with a margin to defend in the final days.
The Mitchelton leader makes no bones of his relatively poor time trialling; in 2017, for example, the loss of 40 seconds in 18km to the Australian Richie Porte cost him overall victory in the Tour de Romandie.
Simon Yates’s six steps to possible glory
A 34km time trial with a route which is largely flat apart from a brief kicker with 9km to go, this is clearly made for Dumoulin with everyone else in the field looking to limit their losses to the flying Dutchman.
An uphill start, a couple of hills mid-stage, but the flat run-out and a probable bunch sprint means this is very much the calm before the final push.
A single 13km climb to the finish after 183 flat kilometres; this steady dragging ascent suits Tom Dumoulin, although Yates has dominated all the uphill finishes so far.
The unpaved Colle delle Finestre. Eighteen kilometres at 9%, and brutally steep, Jafferau to close will favour pure climbers, but the distance between Finestre and the finish means Yates should be able to marshal his team if he struggles.
Nothing quite as hard as Friday but three back to back mountains in the final 85km means there is absolutely no margin for weakness with zero respite before the final summit finish at 2001m.
A brief run through the Italian capital with the Colosseum as an apposite backdrop after three weeks of a pretty gladiatorial race. A chance for any sprinters left in the race after all those mountains.
Yates’s stage win at Sappada changed the equation, however, as it enabled him to extend his lead to 2min 11sec. For one thing, that is a tougher target for Dumoulin. For another, the ease with which Yates sprang away from the Dutchman suggests that over the repeated mountain climbs that close Friday and Saturday’s stages, he will have ample opportunity to either regain the jersey if it is lost, or to reinforce whatever margin he might retain on Tuesday night.
Dumoulin appears to accept this. “He’s in such great shape maybe he can also do a really, really good time trial,” he said when asked on Sunday about Yates’s chances. “We just have to see. I will give everything on Tuesday and then I will see. But even if I have an excellent time trial and he doesn’t, and even if I take the lead, he’s just riding away from us whenever he wants in the mountains so it’s going to be very difficult. I’ll probably not win this Giro d’Italia, but I hope I can keep fighting until Rome and we’ll see what it gives.”
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Elsewhere in the overall picture, Chris Froome can expect to reverse his losses of Sunday and move back towards a podium position, but the climbing form Domenico Pozzovivo and Thibaut Pinot have shown suggests that they rather than the Team Sky leader will be pushing for third place, assuming that Dumoulin and Yates carry their battle for the overall title all the way to Rome. For Tuesday, however, the focus is on a classic battle: an explosive climber in Yates versus the thoroughbred time triallist Dumoulin.
The two riders’ relative strengths are easy to measure given the 2017 Giro winner’s time-trial pedigree, and the fact the course favours his powerful style, but what is impossible to gauge is the extent to which the two men will have recovered from their efforts over the weekend, as Yates implied when he said: “I’m also very tired so maybe I won’t be as best as I can be. I’m not very good anyway.”
“I know I sound like a broken record, but that’s because I don’t know how much time I need. I don’t know if it’s enough, I wish I did because I’d be a bit more calm. I’ve been trying to take time since the race started, and I’ve been successful, but my advantage can be wiped out in one day. Two minutes is not a lot. I keep saying this but it’s a fact.”