Tom Dumoulin was never supposed to be this close, and yet, for 19 stages, he was. The Vuelta a España is a cruel race full of steep ascents. The guys who win this race trend lighter and less well-rounded than Tour de France winners, simply because the parcours are a sadistic climbing party with few time trials. Chris Horner won this race. J.J. Cobo somehow won it. And this year, Fabio Aru will take home the red jersey barring a crash on today’s processional stage, despite three weeks of heroics from Dumoulin, a man far more suited for cobbled classics than Pyrenean summits.

Aru raced a superb Vuelta, cresting at just the right time and finally using his teammates properly in the Sierra de Guadarrama, but Dumoulin’s ride was more impressive. The Dutchman held second place up until the first summit finish, but rather than melt away, he took the stage win, smashing the entire Tour de France podium in the process.

He ceded a minute and a half to Aru on the second summit finish, but then recovered it all back on last week’s time trial in Burgos. Six tiny seconds separated the two riders until yesterday, when the clock finally struck midnight for Dumoulin and he turned back into a pumpkin, giving up 3:46 to Aru, and slipping from first to sixth.

Although he lost the red jersey back to Dumoulin after the time trial, Aru may have won the Vuelta that day. He gave up big chunks of time, which was always going to happen because Tom Dumoulin is maybe the best time trialist in the world and Fabio Aru is shaped like a wispy bird-man, but he matched the Giant-Alpecin leader’s time down the backstretch and limited his losses to 1:53. With Vincenzo Nibali getting everyone mad at him, Aru might get a crack at his first Tour next season.

Dumoulin didn’t come to Spain to win the Vuelta. He was planning on using it as a springboard the way many riders do, to gain some form then leave early to head to the World Championships, but once the overall win was in play, he stuck around. He is now much more spent than he wanted to be heading into Worlds, and he doesn’t even have a podium place to show for it. Cycling is cruel like that.

Advertisement

Photo via Getty