For the second day running, what looked to be a straightforward finale on a very long, but largely flat, stage veered into chaos as riders repeatedly became entangled in a series of crashes late on the run-in to the finish. And of the GC riders, Dumoulinwas one of those who came off the worst.
The Team Sunweb leader hit the deck six kilometres out, suffering major cuts and heavy bruises on both knees, and finishing the stage with blood oozing steadily from his left leg.
Quite apart from the injuries, the 2017 Giro d’Italia winner needed a bike change before he could continue and although Dumoulin did his best to limit the gaps, he crossed the line more than four minutes down, in 98th place.
Although a race x-ray truck checkup later revealed no fractures in his injured leg, team management were already admitting that his options of fighting for GC were very limited, just four days into the race – and Dumoulin himself later said that the GC was “over”. After his crash and time loss, Dumoulin is now 56th, 4:30 back.
When he reached the finish, Dumoulin was in such pain he needed a team soigneur to push him up the short slope leading to the buses.
Then when Dumoulin finally reached the Sunweb bus, he could make it onto the bus alone, but the grim faces as the other Sunweb riders – several of whom had tried to help their leader home in the final kilometres, to little avail – were indications of how serious the situation looked to be.
“I’m going to sleep on it overnight and then I’ll decide tomorrow,” Dumoulin said to reporters after getting the checkup. “The rankings [GC] are over.”
In a team press release, Dumoulin explained how the crash had happened, saying that “[Salvatore] Puccio crashed, I think he touched a wheel or something and he took me and [Ion] Izagirre (Astana Pro Team) down with him.”
“I was in the front of the bunch and just couldn’t avoid it. There are no fractures which is good but my knee is very swollen. I wasn’t able to push any power in the last few kilometres so I don’t know how I will be tomorrow.”
“At one moment we heard there was a crash on the radio,” said team director Marc Reef to reporters at the bus, “we were changing some riders bikes and then we heard Tom was down as well. We got there and we saw immediately that it was not good.”
“We changed his bike, but his knee was full of blood and he could not push on the pedals. That was the biggest problem.”
Reef confirmed that crashes of this type were becoming increasingly frequent in cycling. “It’s happening more, it’s happening more.”
“I had my own crash, I don’t know if he was in the same one or what,” Sunweb rider Chad Haga, the only other rider from the team to fall, told reporters before he got on the bus. “I was on one side of the peloton, Tom was on the other, but I ended upside down in a ditch. I’m ok, no road rash, there were some branches in the ditch that saved my fall.”
Haga said that crashes of this nature are sometimes due to the stage being long and then the adrenalin and nerves of the finish made for a stressful situation with accidents waiting to happen.
“It was a long day, then at the end everybody’s fired up, we know it’s going to be a technical run-in, but it’s just a drag race to that point. The road was really wide there, the narrower roads are almost a little bit safer.”
In terms of Dumoulin’s GC battle, Haga tried to put a brave face on it, saying “It’s certainly going to make things more difficult,” but the Dutchman later said categorically that his fight for a repeat of his victory in 2017 and podium finish in 2018 was over.
Whether Dumoulin will now stay on and fight for stage wins remains to be seen, but first, in any case, the team and rider will presumably have to assess the longer-term effects of his injury. Verona is still a very long way away and the Giro has only just begun.