The mountain stages and the real fight for the general classification at this year's Giro d'Italia have yet to begin but Bahrain-Merida made their intentions clear and fired a shot across the bows of their rivals Saturday. Vincenzo Nibali's squad led the peloton down the testing descent to the finish in Tortolì at a hectic pace.
Nibali and his teammates landed a psychological jab to the ribs of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and anyone else who is hoping to stop Nibali taking a third Corsa Rosa victory. It confirmed that true to character, Nibali will look for every possible moment to test his rivals during the three weeks of racing.
The near-20km climb of Genna Silana caused little problem to the peloton, only helping to pull back the break of the day. However, Nibali's men in red and gold wanted to stay safe at the head of the pack on the series of long sweeping curves that followed and also tested their rivals' nerves by pushing the speed to a breathtaking limit. They took the descent at close to 80km/h, using every inch of the road and going close to touching the barriers and kerbs. The riders behind them had to endure a white-knuckle ride, hoping that nobody would let a gap open or slide out on a curve.
The team confirmed to Cyclingnews that it was a pre-planned strategy, decided after a careful recon of the stage and especially the 37 kilometres of sweeping roads down to Tortoli.
"We decided to lead the race in the last 40 kilometres to avoid risks. The first stages are always very nervous and so it's better to stay in the front," directeur sportif Alberto Volpi said.
Nibali sat third or fourth on the descent, following his teammates and copying their trajectories. He was also well placed in the sprint to the finish line in another sign of confidence and composure, finishing thirteenth behind André Greipel (Lotto Soudal).
It was another small sign, another little message sent to his rivals. The first mountain stage to Mount Etna is looming. The shark of Messina could be about to bite.