• Steven Kruijswijk missed out on a stage win by 16/100ths of a second in Sunday's uphill time trial. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Following Sunday's (supposedly) decisive mountain time trial, we are nonetheless no closer to saying who will win the 99th Giro d'Italia, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
23 May 2016 - 6:30 PM  UPDATED 24 May 2016 - 12:05 AM

Missed it by that much.

He only lost by 16/100ths of a second but I wonder if Steven Kruijswijk, Esteban Chaves, Vincenzo Nibali et al knew this stat before Sunday: the last three times there has been a mountain time trial at the Giro d'Italia, the stage winner has gone on to win overall.

"Surprisingly, prior to Apeldoorn, Nibali amassed 28 days with a number on his back - could this in part explain his lack of punch to date?"

As excellent as he was in the 10.8 kilometre uphill time test, maglia rosa Kruijswijk could've been better and by all accounts should've won. As Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director Matthew White told British journalist Daniel Friebe after the stage, the Dutchman, despite being "in my best shape ever", went out too fast, setting the best time at the 4.35km checkpoint, then struggled in the final three kilometres. Esteban Chaves, on the other hand, tempered his start and consequently finished stronger to place sixth on the day, 40 seconds behind winner Alexander Foliforov of Gazprom-Rusvelo; "he (Chaves) rode the perfect time trial", gushed White. Not just the perfect time trial, I would argue, but so far, the perfect race.

You might think Chaves, the smiling assassin, should've done better but the Alpe di Siusi is not super steep and therefore suited Kruijswijk, Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde more than the Colombian. His time, so to speak, will come.

I wasn't surprised to see Valverde back up there but as happened on Saturday's stage, his decision to race in April rather than go to altitude - which is what Kruiswijk, Chaves and Nibali did - will cost him dearly in this final week, especially Friday and Saturday, on Stages 19 and 20, which feature four climbs over 2,000 metres: "I don't know the coming mountain stages with precision but the last two will be very demanding because of the altitude," Kruijswijk said. Before to the Giro start on May 6, Valverde had already completed 25 race days at full throttle with two GC wins and one Classic victory; Kruijswijk had done 22 but never extended himself; as for Chaves, just 17 race days with no results of note.

Surprisingly, prior to Apeldoorn, Nibali amassed 28 days with a number on his back - could this in part explain his lack of punch to date?

Sunday's mechanical notwithstanding, the damage was already done; it is estimated Nibali had already lost 1'40 of his eventual 2'10 deficit to Foliforov and Kruiswijk on the Alpe di Siusi by the time his chain jammed, as he attempted to move into the big chainring. The 2013 Giro champ is nine seconds short of being three minutes adrift of the maglia rosa, and if he is to win (nothing other would sate Lo Squalo's appetite), a gargantuan effort will be required. In his favour is experience (other than Alberto Contador, he is the only current rider to have won all three Grand Tours) and the collective strength of his team, as is the case for Valverde - yet one must still possess the legs, and so far, said body parts would rather be someplace else, it seems.

That being said, in sport, as in life, a champion is defined more by one's ability to take a punch than give one, and how they bounce back from that. The top five on GC - Kruijswijk, Chaves, Nibali, Valverde and Rafal Majka - have all experienced their share of hard knocks, guaranteeing that, over the coming days, what we are certain to witness is a battle among champions.

The question remains: Will Kruijswijk defy the aforementioned statistic, or succumb to it?

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