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13 May 2016

Wellens, Ligthart and Dumoulin: Ping, Pang and Pong

The Giro is entering the gorgeous Italian landscapes of the earth pigments ochre, sienna, and umber, the last two named after Siena (at which we will nod our heads on the way to Sunday’s time trial) and Umbria, today’s destination, and the region of the founders of Christian monasticism: St Benedict of Nursia, Nursia being modern Norcia, an hour south-east of the stage finish at Foligno; St Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi, and St Rita of Cascia (actually from Roccaporena, near stunning Spoleto).

The lifestyle of the modern racing cyclist may owe a great deal to the monastic tradition (Foucault would surely have agreed), although plenty of the conventional asceticism is refuted by the race leader Tom Dumoulin. Some time ago, Fabio Aru observed that he had not eaten pizza for six months. By contrast, Dumoulin devoured two slices before his stage four press conference, and an omelette sandwich before stage five. “It changes every day. But, what with the post-stage interviews, podium, doping control, and the press conference, I don’t get to the hotel until three hours after the stage, so I have to make sure I recover well.”

 Yesterday’s stage had something of another Italian tradition. In Puccini’s Turandot, the cold Princess Turandot’s suitors have to solve three riddles; any wrong answer results in death. As each Princely suitor steps forward, the ministers Ping, Pang, and Pong appear and advise him not even to try. The candidates, of course, are dazzled by her beauty, and refuse their advice. 

The Giro had its own Ping, Pang and Pong taking and dispensing advice in Wellens, Ligthart and Dumoulin. Tom told Tim to attack, and Pim then joined him at the front. With no successful breakaway in the Giro so far, it might have seemed a suicidal move. Wellens, however, rode away to take a brilliant stage win, “In November last year I was invited to the race in Curacao, I met Tom. We got on well and spoke a lot. The race leader is not often someone I know very well, so this sort of scenario doesn’t happen very often. But I think he gives very good advice, and I might consider following it in future, too.”

Tom too had a good day, starting his career as a directeur sportif before attacking himself – or rather, attacking the others – in the final kilometres and extending his overall lead from sixteen twenty-six seconds. “I surprised myself today. I didn’t think that I would be this good. I worked hard to prepare for the Giro, but at home, without going to the mountains. We have to see how long it lasts. Maybe a day will come in the high mountains when I feel really bad and lose everything. But until then we’ll try to defend this jersey.”

There is, of course, a long, long way to go, but, for the first time, Dumoulin has spoken about Turin – dreaming, perhaps, of a triumphant rendition of Nessun dorma in his honour?