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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo), clad in pink, hangs out in the peloton.
Italian to defend Giro lead on dirt roads and climb to Terminillo
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) enjoyed a relatively calm day in the maglia rosa today, but knows that Saturday's stage on the dirt roads of Tuscany to Montalcino and then Sunday's mountain finish at the summit of Terminillo near Rome will be the first real indication of if he can be a true overall contender in the Giro.
Nibali still leads teammate Ivan Basso by 13 seconds, with Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) fourth at 33 seconds. They are perhaps the only two riders who could take the pink jersey from him this weekend. If Nibali ends the weekend in pink, he could surely keep it until the big mountain stages begin in the final week of the Giro.
Nibali's face lit up when he pulled on the pink jersey in Marina di Carrara and heard the cheers of some of the members of his fan club. They will be along the route on Saturday, too, because the stage cuts across Tuscany, not far from his second home in Mastromarco, where he raced as an amateur and still lives.
"It was supposed to be a 'tranquillo' day but it's wasn't because the stage was difficult with all the climbing and the testing descents. The team worked well and we set our own pace, so it wasn't a hard day but it wasn't an easy day either," Nibali said in the press conference, gaining confidence with every day he wears the pink jersey.
"Nothing happens by chance and I think I deserve to be in pink. We've ridden perfectly so far. The longer we keep the jersey, the better it is. If Ivan gets it the next couple of days that's great and I'd be happy. I shouldn't even have ridden the Giro, so I'm happy with however long I keep the jersey."
The real test of Nibali's form and race lead will begin on Saturday on the dirt roads south of Siena and continue on Sunday on the 16.1km climb to Terminillo.
"We'll see what happens tomorrow but of course I won't be the first to attack. Liquigas will ride defensively," he said, calling the bluff of his rivals.
"I don't know the route of the stage to Montalcino but I know the dirt roads because I've ridden the Strade Bianche race. It'll will be a difficult stage and I know I'll have to especially watch Vino.
"Terminillo will show how I'm going compared to the riders who have specifically targeted the Giro. Terminillo is a real climb. It'll be up to us to control things before the climb and then we'll see what happens and see who is the strongest."