Primoz Roglic attacked twice in the finale of the climb to San Martino di Castrozza on Friday afternoon, showing he still ready to fight for a place on the podium at the Giro d'Italia despite pain in his ribs after his crash on Sunday and a growing feeling he trying to limit his losses on the climbs and so fight for a place on the final podium in Sunday Verona time trial.
Roglic was keen to pull on a cape and descend quickly to the Jumbo-Visma hotel at the foot of the 14km climb but his bike was again tagged for a UCI X-ray check for mechanical doping and so he had to ride into the anti-doping area behind the podium for the check. Vincenzo Nibali's and Mikel Landa's bikes were also selected for X-rays controls, while other riders selected for anti-doping controls.
Roglic spoke briefly about his two attacks as he waited for his bike. He was quickly chased down Nibali, race leader Richard Carapaz and Landa, with other riders joining them but it was a clear sign of a comeback and of defiance. He is not dead yet.
Only Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana got away in the final kilometres of the fast climb to the foot of the spectacular Dolomites. On a good day for Colombian cycling, he gained 44 seconds on his overall rivals. Carapaz still leads Nibali by 1:54, with Roglic third at 2:16. Landa is fourth at 3:03, Mollema fifth at 5:07 and Lopez is sixth, now at 5:33.
"I didn't drop anybody but we have to see if some guys had some problems to follow," Roglic said of his attack, clearing hoping for more and confirming that the pain in his ribs is still hindering his performance in some way. "It was okay. I still have some pain in my chest after the crash, so that's a little annoying."
Roglic was keen to descend to his hotel as soon as possible to rest up and recover for Saturday's final mountain stage.
"It'll be a crucial stage and I expect some big, big gaps," he said before disappearing down the mountain.
His directeur sportif Addy Engels was more talkative.
"I think it was a good sign to see Primoz attack. If you are on the limit, you can't do things like that," Engels said, taking positives signs from Roglic's attacks even if they did not produce any time gains.
"It's good to see he still has good legs. Of course, he will need good legs for Saturday's stage and Sunday's time trial but it's still promising.
"The final climb wasn't really suitable to making a gap, it was so much easier to stay on the wheels. We saw that with Chaves, he had to attack several times and could only make a difference on the steep hairpins. For Primoz it was too far to go at that point, there was some control too. Nibali had two guys and Carapaz too. The characteristics of climb explains why they all rode together to finish."
Fear of the final mountain stage
Roglic and Jumbo-Visma seem to fear the Saturday's final mountain stage, knowing that the four major climbs and the expected attacks could crack the Slovenian and end his hopes of victory, or even a podium spot.
Roglic needs to some how pull back some of his 2:16 deficit on Carapaz if he hopes to have a shot of overall victory in the Verona time trial or at least limit his losses on Nibali, so he can move past the Sicilian in the time trial and perhaps finish second overall.
"It's hard to say what will happen, looking at profile of the stage and looking at what is normal. But what is normal in this Giro?" Engels questioned.
"Looking at the GC gaps, you can wonder if the last climb enough to make up a big gap that is needed. So there could be a surprise move and a long-range attack before that. It's a long way from the Passo Rolle to the finish but it's a long descent too, so if you have support guys in front, it's a possibility."
After looking so strong and so confident early in the Giro d'Italia, Roglic and Jumbo-Visma will fight to hold onto what ever they can all the way to the final finish line in the Verona amphitheatre.
"For sure he'll fight till the finish, to got the best result possible," Engels promised. "And that's means taking back time. What he showed today looked good but it all comes down to him, he needs the legs. It's a 200km stage, it's going to be decisive, that's for sure."