The wait for the showdown between Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) at the Giro d'Italia continued on the road to Pinerolo, but the first signs of a rivalry emerged after the finish, with the Italian clearly irritated by Roglic's defensive riding and his refusal to help chase down attackers and potential overall contenders Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
"We all worked, except Roglic," Nibali said with disapproval while at the Bahrain-Merida bus post stage. "I worked, Yates did turns, all the big guys in the move worked except him."
Nibali acknowledged that Roglic has the right to race defensively but hinted Friday's mountain stage up to Lago Serru will be a very different day in the saddle.
"He can do that because he's got a decent lead. He knows he's got the final time trial, too, and so he's defending his lead but tomorrow will be more of a direct race off," the Italian promised.
Subtle racing rather than Coppi heroics
Stage 12 from Cuneo to Pinerolo was never going to see the heroics Fausto Coppi produced in 1949 because the 158km stage included just the Montoso climb with 32km to race rather the legendary climbs of the Alps into France and then back into Italy.
The racing was more subtle, like the early round in a title fight. It was the antipasto to the main meal in the high mountains coming up in the next three days.
"It wasn't a very hard stage, but it was difficult," Nibali pointed out.
"It was a fast day, hard to understand. There were some interesting things going on. We gave a bit of space to Lopez and Landa, but in the end it was OK because all the best riders were chasing together behind."
Landa and Lopez had teammates drop back from the break of the day to help them try to gain time and move back up the overall classification after their attack on the Montoso climb. They gained 28 seconds but remain more than four minutes down on Roglic and two and half on Nibali.
Nibali, surprisingly, sent Damiano Caruso in the break of the day, perhaps as a tactical move to have a strong teammate up the road or just to try to win the stage. Nibali was perhaps hoping to force Roglic and Jumbo-Visma to chase, but they refused to blink, much to his annoyance.
"They opened a big gap and nobody took responsibility for the race, that's why we put Bole and Agnoli on the front to work. But we can't be expected to do all the work, it's not up to us to do it, it's up to others who are better placed to do some work too," he said, continuing his criticism of Roglic.
"Damiano’s second place is a good result but we would have been better if he'd won. But he didn't really use much energy, he didn't work when the break went away, he stayed on the wheels. I had Pozzovivo and so was protected behind.
"We knew Astana would have gone on the attack on the climb. I went after Lopez the first time but not the second time, it’s not up to me to chase him down every time…. They're the furthest down and so it's natural they had to try something."
Like everyone starved of exciting racing in this year's Giro d'Italia, Nibali is hoping for more and better opportunities to attack during Friday's stage to Lago Serru. He was optimistic but evasive about his tactics.
"Tomorrow is another big day and all the weekend is hard. I feel good. I don’t know what I'll do. We’ll see tomorrow," he said.
"It's been a classic Giro, monotonous, some say it's been boring, for the sprinters but the mountains are coming," Nibali told L'Equipe in an interview published on Thursday.
"After all the fatigue we've accumulated, things will soon be clearer. Then in the third week everything will depend on how people recover. Only the riders with lots of endurance will survive. I'm not worried, I recover pretty well.
"I don't know what I can come up with, it can all happen in a split second, something happens and you grab it or not. It's going to be carpe diem racing, you just have to stay sharp, stay focused."