Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) didn't need to wait for an instruction in his radio earpiece when a clutch of Movistar jerseys massed on the front of the peloton as it rattled through Arezzo for the first time with 30 kilometres remaining on stage 8 of the Giro d'Italia.
Just 24 hours shy of a time trial where Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) was expected to put daylight between himself and the overall contenders, Alejandro Valverde opted to get his retaliation in first on the gravel climb of the Alpe di Poti.
When Valverde accelerated sharply just as asphalt gave way for gravel, Nibali was smartly onto his wheel. When it emerged that Dumoulin had been caught out by the injection of pace, Nibali didn't need an invitation to join the onslaught. A 15 second gap quickly became 30 and then 60. By the time the group of favourites dropped back into Arezzo, Dumoulin had conceded 1:10.
"I took the climb at the front thanks to Agnoli, because we realised that Movistar were thinking of doing something. When Valverde's attack came, I got on his wheel and then when I saw the pink jersey had been dropped, I did a few turns on the front," Nibali said afterwards.
At the start in Foligno, reporters' questions focused primarily on whether the pre-race favourites would manage to manage their losses to Dumoulin in Sunday's Chianti time trial. Nibali's coach Paolo Slongo estimated that the Sicilian would be pleased to limit the damage to "between 50 seconds and 1:30." Despite the haul up the Alpe di Poti, nobody, not even Nibali, anticipated that the stage would force such a shake-up of the general classification.
"I didn't think that the stage would be as difficult as that in the finale, but Movistar interpreted it very well. We were very alert and we collaborated with them," Nibali said. "Initially the others in the group didn't want to work, but then [Esteban] Chaves and [Steven] Kruijswijk came and supported us. Once everybody saw that Dumoulin was losing time, there was a bit more collaboration."
At one point, Mikel Landa (Sky) was also distanced by the Valverde-Landa group, though he managed to scramble his way back on towards the summit of the climb. Dumoulin, meanwhile, so elegant at Roccaraso on Thursday, was now flapping some 500 metres further down the mountain. He steadied himself on the descent, but still dropped to 11th place overall by day's end.
Valverde the threat
Nibali now lies 5th overall, 45 seconds off the new maglia rosa Brambilla, but 20 clear of Dumoulin. Though he insisted that the Dutchman remained a general classification threat – "Tomorrow he'll do an excellent time trial, it's very well-suited to his characteristics, so he could come back into the race" – his directeur sportif Giusppe Martinelli was less convinced.
"I'd always have put Dumoulin down as an outsider anyway given the mountains in the third week," Martinelli said. "He'll come back to try to win the time trial tomorrow and he might be high on GC again tomorrow night, but I don't think he'll be a threat to win the race overall."
No matter, Dumoulin's travails have changed the complexion of the time trial for Nibali. Rather than looking to keep his deficit to the Dutchman within manageable dimensions, it has now become an exercise in putting time into some of the pure climbers, most notably his former teammate Mikel Landa.
"I think Landa should lose time to Vincenzo and [Rigoberto] Uran, and in theory should lose between a minute or a minute and a half to them," Slongo told Cyclingnews on Saturday morning. "And the others on GC, like Valverde, aren't bad in time trials either, so Landa could lose a bit."
Speaking after the stage, meanwhile, Martinelli was more concerned by the threat posed by another Spaniard. Valverde lies one place and three seconds ahead of Nibali on general classification.
"I saw a great Valverde today," Martinelli warned. "He's certainly going to be very, very hard to beat."
More on this story...
- Giro d'Italia stage 8: Quotes from the finish line
- Giro d'Italia: Stage 8 video highlights
- Dumoulin defeated, drops out of Giro d'Italia contention
- Nibali to the fore as Giro d'Italia takes on new complexion
- Giro d'Italia: Brambilla's plan comes together on dusty road to Arezzo
- Valverde strikes first blow in 2016 Giro d'Italia on Tuscany climb