The Euskaltel-Euskadi team had never won a stage at the Giro d’Italia unti Igor Anton did so on the Zoncolan on Saturday, but the Basque outfit must have found a special taste for it as Mikel Nieve brought another epic victory to their camp at Gardeccia. This is the fifth participation for the riders in orange at the Giro after doing it from 2005 to 2009. Their best result prior to this year was a fourth place by David Lopez Garcia on stage 18 in 2006.
Nieve, who will turn 27 on May 26, was already a winner at the Vuelta a España last year, as he claimed the queen stage to Cotobello, also at the end of a long breakaway. “So now, to win the queen stage of the Giro is a dream that I would have never thought to come true,” the rider from Navarra told reporters at the top of the Gardeccia. “I couldn’t imagine achieving it when I turned professional (with Orbea in 2008, one year before joining Euskaltel-Euskadi).”
At the Vuelta, he got freedom after Anton’s retirement because of a crash when he had the red jersey of race leader. At the Giro, he was still prepared to do his duty for his captain, even after the triumph on the Zoncolan. “But at the morning meeting before this stage, Igor told me to break away,” Nieve revealed. “He said that I was able to win a stage as well, that’s what pushed me into trying.”
Even though he knew how long and hard it was from Conegliano to Gardeccia, Nieve couldn’t imagine the calvary he was about to go through. “This is for sure the hardest day I’ve had in my career so far,” he said. “From the time Garzelli went away on the Passo Giau, it’s been mano a mano. I feel that I’ve ridden 100 kilometres on my own. With all these climbs and the wind, the stage was like an eternity.”
So was the very end, when he was going solo for the win after passing Garzelli on the final climb. “I completed the stage just as I could,” he said. “I was extremely tired. I couldn’t even find any strength to put my arms up in the air. I felt the last kilometre would never end.”
Nieve insisted that he wouldn’t become a different rider after that epic ride. “I’m not the captain of Euskaltel in any way,” said the rider who is now 5th overall at the Giro. “Igor will pass me on GC after the cronoscalata on Tuesday. I remain at his service. If I finish in the top
ten, I’ll be very happy, but if I don’t, I won’t be disappointed.”
“To win at the Tour de France is another story,” he concluded. “I must improve step by step. I’ve been lucky to win stages at the Vuelta and the Giro, but the Tour is another story. It’s very hard to win a stage there.”