• Not happy Tom... "I have to overcome my anger to look further into the Giro". (AFP)Source: AFP
When the rules are not in writing, as far as the Giro d'Italia is concerned, those rules are made to be broken, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
24 May 2017 - 3:19 PM  UPDATED 24 May 2017 - 3:21 PM

In Bormio the maglia rosa said "I'm angry with myself", but if you saw his face immediately afterwards, and his reaction to stage winner and defending Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali, who he did not acknowledge nor congratulate, he wasn't just disappointed in himself.

Dumoulin loses Giro time to nature, Nibali and Quintana
Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana clawed back the majority of the time held by race leader Tom Dumoulin on a tumultuous Stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia.

So far, in a poll conducted on Cycling Central today, almost half of you say it was unsportsmanlike behaviour, and I'd have to agree.

The longstanding unwritten rule of professional road racing states you do not attack the race leader when nature calls (for what it's worth, it doesn't matter if it's a 'number one' or 'number two'), or if they crash and are able to get back on their bike. In fact, two days previous on the stage to Bergamo, Tom Dumoulin, who took the lead after the individual time trial on Stage 10, extended the courtesy to not just the race leader but other race favourites when Nairo Quintana hit the deck, calling for a go-slow till the Colombian rejoined the front group. "It's not how we do things," said the Team Sunweb leader.

What happened sets a terrible precedent, for what was once off-limits is now fair game.

"Dumoulin's gesture when he told his riders to stop was beautiful," an appreciative Quintana said on the second rest day. "It's true that we would probably have made it back thanks to my team in any case, but it would have taken a bigger effort. It was a gentleman's move and we thank him for that."

"I just had some problems. I needed to take a dump," Dumoulin said matter-of-factly. "I started to feel it in the downhill of the Stelvio and I had to stop."

When you've got to go, you've got to go...

However unlike Quintana, at that point Tuesday, Dumoulin had just one team-mate remaining, Laurens Ten Dam, who offered only brief assistance before the maglia rosa had to spend most of the last 30 kilometres on his own, chasing a group he would not rejoin. Steven Kruijswijk of Team LottoNl-Jumbo was the best-placed rider in the what remained of the early escape, though his lead was a tenuous one; besides, at the start of the day he was seven minutes in arrears. Granted, Movistar and Bahrain-Merida, the teams of Quintana and Nibali, were pushing the pace - but so was Team Sunweb two days earlier.

It's not like Dumoulin took his time, either. He didn't ask his DS for a copy of La Gazzetta dello Sport to read while he did his business. I'm not in the game of timing nature breaks, but it seemed faster than many riders take to pee. To allow the maglia rosa to return to the group he was in, and for the racing to resume thereafter, would have been so much simpler, rather than the time Quintana and Nibali spent faffing around, casting furtive glances, wondering when would be an appropriate time to attack. At least they didn't claim they didn't know about it because their radios weren't working or some such malarkey.

What happened sets a terrible precedent regardless, for what was once off-limits is now fair game, it seems. The next time this happens to a race leader, will we see the rest of the favourites and their teams strung out single-file, in an attempt to eke out every advantage they can get? To me, it's akin to a knife in the back.

Dumoulin: 'I’m angry with myself'
Tom Dumoulin was dispirited but also defiant after intestinal problems brought him to within 31 seconds of losing the Giro d'Italia lead to Nairo Quintana.

Getting back to La Gazzetta: the headline yesterday read 'I'm not afraid of anyone', accompanied by a picture of Dumoulin. Perhaps that had something to do with it, because some are of the opinion the Dutchman doesn't respect his rivals the way he should. I believe the opposite is true, and his actions have shown as much. In sport, if you fear someone, how can you beat them? There is nothing wrong in saying he has never been afraid of his peers.

I think the 26-year-old from Maastricht should actually take the breaking of the unwritten rule as a positive, because by all intents and purposes, he was cruising to his first Grand Tour victory. Which may still happen. In other words, Dumoulin posed such a threat to their chances, Quintana, Nibali et al. had no choice but to break the rule of respecting the race leader when nature's a-calling.

There are many grande montagne to come, and when it comes to the high mountains, Dumoulin's team is left wanting. Nevertheless, this is a different man to the one who lost the Vuelta a España on the penultimate day two years ago, and after what happened Tuesday on the road to Bormio, we may see a different man again. "It's definitely not finished but I have to overcome my anger to look further into the Giro," he said.

I'm expecting a bare-knuckle fistfight all the way to Milan.