If in the end it was the pre-race favourite who won then the 2016 Giro d'Italia was anything but predictable. The pendulum swung from one side to another, ushering in new dawns and sudden, from-out-of-nowhere dusks that kept both spectators and commentators on the edge of their seats right to the very end - and beyond (for Giacomo Nizzolo was stripped of his maiden Grand Tour stage 'win' half an hour after crossing the line in Turin).
Here, our cycling blogger Felix Lowe tries to breakdown the race into distinctive phases to get a better idea of how all the pieces fitted together...

The Dumoulin Phase

Giro d'Italia
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31/05/2015 AT 12:33
No one doubted that Dutchman Tom Dumoulin was the outright favourite to win the opening time trial in his native Netherlands and don the first maglia rosa of the race. But what we didn't expect was for the Giant-Alpecin rider to keep hold of the pink jersey for so long - regaining it after Marcel Kittel's pink cameo for the opening stage on Italian soil.
While Dumoulin kept on insisting that he was not riding with the general classification in mind - citing his lack of altitude training as evidence - his big rivals began to doubt that when Dumoulin looked dominant in the first two uphill finishes, at Praia a Mare (stage 4) and Roccaraso (stage 6).

Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin (Giant - Alpecin) competes during the 5th stage of 99th Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy, from Praia a Mare to Benevento of 233 km on May 11, 2016 in Benevento

Image credit: AFP

Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) even suggested Dumoulin had been a trifle disingenuous by "misleading the enemy" about his condition - not long before everything the rangy Dutchman had said made sense when he collapsed spectacularly on the dirt roads around Arezzo.
The Dumoulin Phase could also be known as 'The Lowlander-Germanic Era' - not simply because of the three stages on Dutch soil, but the breakaway exploits of Maarten Tjallingii, the brace of wins from sprinters Kittel and Andre Greipel, and Tim Wellens' superb stage 6 solo triumph at Roccaraso. This all contrived to seeing just one Italian - Diego Ulissi of Lampre-Merida - stand atop the podium in the opening week.
How it could have been very different
Just one hundredth of a second separated Dumoulin and second-place Slovenian, Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) in Apeldoorn - and had the shoe been on the other foot, Dumoulin, without the bright pink jersey covering his shapely shoulders, may have been a mere footnote to the race before withdrawing with chronic saddle sores.
Turning point:
The site of an unseated and grimacing Dumoulin's back wheel spinning on the strade bianche outside Arezzo as his rivals lurched clear on the Alpe di Poti in stage 8. Dumoulin would plummet out of the top ten, his maglia rosa taken over by stage winner Gianluca Brambilla.

The Middle Ages

Also known as the 'Etixx-QuickFix' or the 'Rumble in the Jungels', this phase marked a period of flux within the race where Brambilla, and then his team-mate Bob Jungels, took over at the top before Andre Amador made history for Costa Rica. This period of quick-fire uncertainty was also characterised by a run of six different stage winners on the bounce.
The timing of Brambilla's solo victory - ahead of both the first major deluge and time trial of the race - was meant to characterise the Italian climber's sole day as race leader by a soggy pink skinsuit that clearly looked several sizes too large. But, incredibly, Brambilla held on to the overall lead in rain-soaked Chianti - by a mere second over his Etixx-QuickStep team-mate Jungels.

Bob Jungels of Etixx - Quick Step team with Costa Rican Andrey Amador of Movistar team and Italian Diego Ulissi of Lampre - Merida

Image credit: AFP

Brambilla then buried himself the next day to ensure that it was Jungels - and not the lurking Amador - who took over possession of his maglia rosa, which the Luxembourg tyro wore for three days before the Movistar jack-in-the-box became the first Central American to lead a Grand Tour.
This second phase of the race saw the host nation bite back with wins from Brambilla, Giulio Ciccone and a second for Ulissi, while Damiano Cunego rolled back the years in the battle for blue, and Giacomo Nizzolo did his thing of riding in red without winning stages.
Roglic, meanwhile, showed that his opening day heroics were no fluke by winning the ITT on a borrowed bike and without a water bottle. And as with the historical Middle Ages, there were casualties aplenty - with Mikel Landa (Team Sky) retiring with illness and Dumoulin bidding the race adieu with cycling's equivalent of the bubonic plague: saddle sores.
How it could have been very different
Firstly, the sun could have shone in Chianti, giving Fabian Cancellara - another rider who would withdraw - the chance to raise a glass to his first ever Giro stage win. Or maybe Ilnur Zakarin may have avoided crashing, twice - meaning the Russian took over Brambilla's maglia rosa for Katusha.
Had Jungels and Brambilla not chased down Amador in stage 11 to Asolo, the Costa Rican could have enjoyed a longer time on the summit, too. And of course, had Landa not been forced out of the race after the second rest day, it could have been the Basque climber who dominated stage 13 to Cividale del Friuli, not his Sky team-mate Mikel 'Plan B' Nieve.
Turning point
The rain in Chianti - not only did Brambilla hold on to his maglia rosa, but his team-mate Jungels was able to put in a surprisingly strong effort against the cautious GC favourites to set up his stint in pink, too.

The Kruijswijk Phase

This was the phase which - in an alternative reality - lasted all the way to Turin. Indeed, most of us spectators would have banked on Steven Kruijswijk staying in pink to the very end given how imperious the Dutchman looked in the Friuli mountains and Dolomites.

Steven Kruijswijk

Image credit: AFP

Despite talk of being poorly supported by LottoNL-Jumbo in the mountains, Kruijswijk let his legs do the talking with a series of dominant performances. And on the day when team-mates were of no import, Kruijswijk came within a whisker of winning the mountain time trial on Alpe di Suisi - taking large chunks of time off all his rivals, most notably the out-of-sorts Nibali.
A day later, Kruijswijk matched Valverde in Andolo as Nibali faltered yet again, dropping off the podium and 4:43 down on the flame-haired Dutchman, who looked every bit the three-time Grand Tour champion that his rival Sicilian was.
There were subplots aplenty in this Kruijswijk hegemony with Esteban Chaves winning the queen stage in the Dolomites, Gazprom-RusVelo placing two riders in the top four of the mountain ITT (including rookie winner Alexander Foliforov), Valverde joining the illustrious club of stage winners in all three Grand Tours, and - not least - both Roger Kluge and Matteo Trentin pulling off quite unlikely victories in extraordinary circumstances in Cassano d'Adda and Pinerolo.
How it could have been very different
Nibali may not have dropped a chain and then had a meltdown during the time trial - or, conversely, he may have lost even more time than he did, whereby prompting Alexander Vinokourov to pull his emotionally scarred rider from the team in a bit to protect his battered ego. And had Orica-GreenEdge's Ruben Plaza and Damien Howson not come to the rescue on the road to Andolo, perhaps Chaves would have been even further behind Kruijswijk ahead of the Alps.
Turning point
Easy - the highest point of the race, the Colle dell'Agnello, was also the lowest for the man atop the summit of the standings. Had Kruijswijk not shouldered the snowdrift, he would have ridden on to Turin in pink.

Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) hits a wall of snow and loses both time and the leaders jersey - Photo Credit: ANSA - PERI / DI MEO / ZENNARO

Image credit: Eurosport

The Chaves Chapter

The shortest phase of the race lasted just 24 hours and spanned two stages - corresponding to the time the smiling Colombian was picked up by team-mate Plaza on the descent of the Agnello, until the painful moment Chaves could no longer keep up with compatriot Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) on the penultimate climb of the race, the Colle della Lombarda.
For a brief moment it seemed like Chaves was going to become only the third Colombian to win a Grand Tour after Luis Herrara scooped the Vuelta in 1987 and Nairo Quintana the Giro in 2014, but instead his fatigue, reported bronchitis and lack of team support at altitude caught up with him - and his first day in pink was to be his last.
How it could have been very different
Had Michele Scarponi not been riding up the road for Astana - or had the veteran Italian taken the Giovanni Visconti line of team-building and foregone orders from the earpiece - Nibali may have lacked the extra firepower that saw him take time off Chaves on the day the Colombian nevertheless rode into pink.
Turning point
There were two - and both of them Shark attacks. While Nibali's accelerations earlier in the race had been blunt and cursory, the two that mattered - on the climbs to Risoul and the Colle della Lombarda - were killer blows.

Jaws II: The Revenge

Knowing that he had taken time off Chaves (53 seconds, to be precise) on stage 19, Nibali knew that he merely had to repeat that in stage 20 to be assured of his second Giro victory. By now the momentum was with the experienced Italian, who had rediscovered his mojo thanks to a load of needles (that's acupuncture, by the way, and nothing sinister).
How it could have been very different
The only thing that could have saved Chaves from the inevitable was the Colombian having more support and being less knackered. Already when he rode into pink fatigue was catching up with him, and so Nibali's knockout blow was perhaps not as astonishing as everyone first thought.
Indeed, in the end Chaves was beaten on stage 20 by a man with broken ribs - so had Kruijswijlk not been so badly injured in his fall, then who knows what may have happened. But without support from Tanel Kangert, Jakob Fuglsang and Scarponi, Nibali's task was far more onerous - he had the legs, but he had a helping hand too.
Turning point
Nibali being able to launch his decisive attack on the Colle della Lombarda and then being able to recover for a short while after picking up Kangert, who had been out in the break. Simple, but effective tactics - something Astana delivered consistently while their rivals failed.

Predicted top ten revisited

Ahead of the final week of the race, I predicted my top ten for Turin - only one of which (Kruijswijk's fourth place) materialised. Here they are, with the actual positions in brackets:
1. Valverde (3rd), 2. Nibali (1st), 3. Majka (5th), 4. Kruijswijk (4th), 5. Zakarin (DNF), Chaves (2nd), 7. Amador (8th), 8. Uran (7th), 9. Pozzovivo (20th), Fuglsang (12th).
I also predicted that Jungels would drop out of the top ten, which he did (before rising back to 6th). And I overlooked both BMC's Darwin Atapuma (9th) and Dimension Data's Kanstantsin Siutou (10th). Perhaps I'll have better luck next time, in the Tour de France... Until then.