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15 May 2016


Yesterday, the stage that Tom Dumoulin saw as an opportunity undid his lead. The irresistible force of Apeldoorn and Roccaraso (Aremogna) failed him. Dropped on the dirt-road climb of Alpe de Poti, he finished 38th at Arezzo, 2’51” after Brambilla.

A chapter ends, as the expression goes, and it is true that Grand Tours are sprawling stories with multiple plots and subplots, tales of hope, disappointment, triumph and disaster. But every rider has his own language and culture, so the nature of the novel changes for them all.

Yesterday’s stage winner, Gianluca Brambilla, was born at Bellano on Lake Como, one of the settings for The Betrothed (in Italian, I promessi sposi). For the new Maglia Rosa, whose daughter Asia was born on 23 April, the book of the Giro is, perhaps, like Alessandro Manzoni’s historical novel, one about the unwavering strength of love.

For the Russian, Ilnur Zakarin, now second in GC at 23”, the Giro perhaps seems Dostoevskiyan, a vast philosophical and religious exploration of human psychology.

Those near-perfect English speakers Steven Kruiswijk, now third at 33”, and Tom Dumoulin, perhaps think of the novels of Gerard Kornelis van het Reve, who moved to England in the 1950s, dropped the “van het” from his name and started writing in English.

And for the Colombians Esteban Chaves and Rigoberto Urán, now sixth and seventh at 48 and 49 seconds respectively, the Grand Tours perhaps have something of the magic realism of their Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, in which in which the fantastic and the realistic merge in a world rich in imagination.

Flicking back to the results page, another thought occurs. Today’s rippling, sinuous 40.5 km individual time trial has many favourites: Urán, the winner of the Barolo time trial two years ago; Nibali, always a good time triallist (Junior and U-23 World Time Trial bronze medallist in 2002 and 2004), and the Maglia Bianca Bob Jungels (a former Junior World Time Trial champion). But it suits no one more than Tom Dumoulin.

Perhaps the chapter has not ended at all. Perhaps this Giro is less a nineteenth-century novel than it is a game of snakes and ladders, or a counter-novel like Julio Cortázar’s 1953 work Hopscotch (Rayuela), with 155 chapters, the last 99 designated as ‘expendable’, and the rest either in sequence from chapters 1 to 56, or by hopscotching according to instructions specified by the author, or by the readers own choice of path through the narrative.

Time itself moves forwards, backwards and sideways: nothing is definitely – and the Maglia Rosa can always rise again.