Vincenzo Nibali sat on the steps of the Bahrain-Merida bus after Friday's Giro d'Italia stage to Piancavallo, asking for the time gaps of the stage and the new general classification to put his day’s performance into perspective.
On Thursday, Nibali was angry and vitriolic after Dumoulin’s riding and comments in Ortisei but was again relaxed and ready to talk about his race today. He was unable to adequately distance the Dutchman and may have to fight for a place on the podium in Sunday’s final time trial, but deep down he also remains convinced that he still has a chance of overall victory. His four Grand Tour victories are proof of his ability to win the hardest races in professional cycling.
“We’re all tired but we’re all fighting to win the Giro d’Italia and we’ll all fight to the very end,” he said of own chances and that of his rivals.
“We won’t give up until the very end. This is a very hard race. You can’t win by minutes, this Giro d’Italia will be decided by just a few seconds.
“You can see everybody’s level now. We're all tired, yet the speed was incredibly high today, one of the highest I’ve ever seen, making it hard to get away. Pinot managed it and was good because we hesitated and so he got a gap. I had a go with three kilometres to go. I asked Nairo to take a turn as we chased and moved by Zakarin but we were flat out.”
Nibali finished two second behind Nairo Quintana, lost 14 seconds to Thibaut Pinot, and eight to Domenico Pozzovivo and Ilnur Zakarin. He gained 1:07 on Dumoulin but that was not enough to move past the Dutchman, who is 38 seconds down on Quintana and five seconds ahead of Nibali. Pinot is fourth overall at 53 seconds down on Quintana, with Zakarin fifth at 1:21 and Pozzovivo is sixth at 1:30. The battle for the final maglia rosa remains excruciatingly close.
Nibali still has a chance of overall victory but Dumoulin and perhaps even Pinot and Zakarin could jump above him in the final 29.3km test from Monza to Milan on Sunday. Saturday’s 190km stage to Asiago includes the iconic Monte Grappa climb and then the final hairpin-packed Foza climb up to Asiago. With Nibali forced to ride defensively in the time trial, he will have to go on the attack on Saturday or accept a podium spot or even worse on Sunday.
“Looking at the new classification, it’s going to be a very complex and difficult final two stages,” Nibali accepted.
“It’s going to be difficult to turn things upside own because everybody is watching each other and looking for a solo move that can gain them a few seconds.
“Tom lost time today, but he’s still up there and has a chance of victory. We’ll see how he recovers after suffering today and we’ll see what happens tomorrow. Everybody will try more single attacks trying to earn whatever seconds they can before the time trial. Monte Grappa is a serious climb and also a serious descent…”
A lesson in respect amongst Grand Tour rivals
Nibali was happy to face questions about his spat with Dumoulin after Thursday's stage. Despite his Sicilian pride and well-known stubbornness, Nibali accepted Dumoulin’s apology before the start of Friday's stage but offered a lesson in respect amongst Grand Tour rivals.
“I watched and learned from the great riders I’ve raced with, but I’ve never seen someone so cocky like he was yesterday,” Nibali pointed out.
“He apologised to me at the start and with the others in the peloton, so we’ve drawn a line under it all. That’s the good thing about cycling and racing. You can make mistakes, apologise and then all start racing again out on the road. I think it was a nobile gesture on his part. The case is closed. We’re all focused on the final two days of racing. That’s what counts now.”