A dark night of the soul. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) rode directly to his hotel in Andalo after slipping to fourth overall at the Giro d'Italia on Tuesday, preferring to avoid speaking to reporters on the finish line, limiting himself to a brief statement issued by his team shortly after the stage. "I'm not myself, I have no explanation," Nibali said.
Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) may hold the maglia rosa, but whatever happens from here to Turin, in Italian eyes, this remains the Giro of Vincenzo Nibali, who is making his first appearance in the race since winning it three years ago and claiming the Tour de France in the intervening period. Not since Marco Pantani in 1999 has a home rider lined up at the Giro shouldering an equivalent burden of pressure.
Some Italian reporters remained camped out in the hotel lobby long into Tuesday evening and after some initial reticence – "Why do you want to wound my pride even more? I'm already in pieces" – Nibali agreed to speak to Gazzetta dello Sport.
"I don't want to look for excuses. My current condition is what it is, but I don't understand because it seems to me that I feel well. Even when [long-time soigneur Michele] Pallini gives me a massage, he tells me that my legs are right," Nibali said.
Nibali has been subdued at this Giro from the first summit finish at Roccaraso, but remained very much in the hunt for the maglia rosa even after he was distanced by Kruijswijk and Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) on the Passo Valparola on Saturday.
A disastrous showing in the Alpe di Siusi time trial the following day was a severe blow to Nibali's chances and his morale. His attack on the Passo della Mendola on Tuesday ultimately proved an illusion, as he lost another 1:47 on the stage and dropped to fourth overall, now 4:43 behind Kruijswijk.
"There's something that's not going right. We've already realised that from some of my values," Nibali said. "The blood tests that I'll do in the coming days will help me to understand more."
Speaking immediately after the stage, coach Paolo Slongo noted that if further tests revealed Nibali to be ill, it would be counterproductive for him to remain in the Giro until the finish in Turin next Sunday, especially considering that he is – at least for the time being – slated to ride the Tour de France in preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
"I won't stop. I want to get to Turin," Nibali told Gazzetta. "You have to accept a defeat out of respect for your rivals and your teammates. How could I leave this group? They're fantastic, they're doing everything to help me.
"We've worked together from the start of the year, and suffered for this objective. No, I won't give up. I won't give up even if it means finishing further down, even if only to defend Astana's first place in the team classification."
Astana doctor Emilio Magni told reporters in Andalo that an examination during the rest day had no shown no particular reason for Nibali's low-key displays, but added that the Sicilian would undergo further tests on Wednesday or Thursday in a bid to uncover any underlying health issues.
"We'll evaluate it well with the tests. For now I hope it's not that even some things make me fear if might be a valid theory. I'm in difficulty because I don't understand what's happening," said Nibali, who also explained why he had been so reluctant to speak to reporters following the past two stages.
"After the finish line, you're waiting for me and I don't know what to tell you. I don't like looking bad like this. For me these are humiliations. I'll get to Turin. I can't give up."