Vincenzo Nibali is expected to regain some of the 60 seconds he lost to Nairo Quintana on the mountain finish to Blockhaus during today's Sagrantino time trial but after studying the 39.8km route, the Italian was cautious about just how much time he can gain and how much time Quintana will lose to all of the pink jersey contenders.
"In a time trial like this one, stronger riders have an advantage. Having fresh legs will also be a factor. We've all enjoyed the rest day but we've all ridden our bikes too. I hope to do a good time trial," Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Quintana showed he can limit his losses in time trials like this one, so we'll have to see the final time gaps. There's still a long way to go in the Giro d'Italia but the overall classification is very short."
Nibali worked on his time trial position in a Milan wind tunnel in the spring and has improved his ability against the clock in recent years after also working closely with Specialized while at Astana. He studied the time trial course in March after Tirreno-Adriatico, again on Monday morning during the rest day, and will take one last look at the road surface and wind today before his ride.
Nibali is fifth overall, 1:10 behind Quintana and 41 seconds down on Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) who is expected to take the maglia rosa. Nibali rolls down the start ramp in Foligno a 4:12 local time, with Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) starting three minutes behind him, Dumoulin is off at 16:18 and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) at 4:21. Quintana is last off at 16:24.
"The time trial course is fast and so suits the time trialists. Dumoulin is the obvious favourite to win and to take the pink jersey. The long gradual climbs are perfect for riders who can push a lot of power. It's perfectly suited to Dumoulin," Nibali explained.
Nibali's coach and confidant, Paolo Slongo, hopes that the Bahrain-Merida leader pulls back at least half of what he lost at Blockhaus.
"I'd settle now for Vincenzo to gain 30 or 40 seconds on Nairo, but any gain that balances the minute lost on the Blockhaus and starts the fight back would be good. From a training and tech point of view, we haven't neglected anything," Slongo told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Looking back to the Blockhaus
Nibali's performance and time loss on Sunday's Blockhaus mountain finish has been analysed in every detail in Italy, with Nibali confirming that he cracked at one point, forcing him to carefully control his final effort and ride to the finish. It is a worrying sign but Nibali is confident he can fight back in the second half of the Giro
"I knew that a pure climber like Quintana could have dropped us and it happened. I cracked a bit and went into the red and so had to ease off and manage my effort," he admitted.
"I responded to Quintana's attack but then in the final kilometres, on the hardest part of the climb, I made a mistake by doing some turns with Pinot. I was happy how I responded to Quintana's attacks: He jumped but I came back to him at my own rhythm, with a progression rather than a jump.
"The Blockhaus was suited to explosive riders, while I'm more of a diesel. I hope to pull back time later in the Giro. I'll be giving it everything regardless of the final result."
Nibali is expecting an aggressive final week in the mountains, with the likes of Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas likely to ride aggressively after losing time in the crash sparked by the police motorbike on the approach to the Blockhaus.
"There are a lot of angry riders after the crash on the Blockhaus. Riders like Yates and Thomas are not totally out of contention and will be looking to fight back," Nibali warned.
"They'll be looking to shake up the classification if they can and it won't be easy for follow them all when they attack. I suppose I am too. I consider myself lucky because it was a miracle that I managed to avoid the crash."