It appeared that Team Sky were going to suffer another disappointing Giro d’Italia when Mikel Landa was forced to abandon at the start of the second week. However, last-minute addition Mikel Nieve salvaged the race with victory in the mountains classification and a stage win.
Nieve was brought into the line-up just a few weeks before the race began when Sergio Henao was provisionally suspended while the UCI investigate the Colombian’s biological passport. Nieve admits that he struggled at first but found his form once the race hit the mountains. “[It is] indescribable. I will savour it and enjoy it. I take pride in my Giro d’Italia,” he told AS.
“I got more than I could have imagined, my second stage victory in the Giro and the mountains classification. For a climber like me it means that you’ve achieved a great level, it has given me a lot of hope. I started a little short of form and, in the first week, I took things calmly, and I put myself out front in the last two weeks when Sky needed me to.”
Team Sky had gone into the Giro d’Italia with probably one of their clearest cut chances of taking home the maglia rosa. While Landa didn’t look on top of his game yet, it had been going well throughout the first week and a strong performance in the time trial had set him up nicely for the mountains. However, things began to unravel for Landa and his team following the second rest day when the 26-year-old was dropped on a medium mountain stage.
Nieve and fellow Spaniard David Lopez hung back to help their leader but, sick and more than six minutes behind, Landa eventually climbed off his bike and into the team car. Nieve and Lopez then had the long and lonely journey to the finish of the stage, where they would eventually cross the line in a small group more than 37 minutes behind the winner. The time loss would work in Nieve’s favour in the coming days as he took his own chances.
Three days after his leader’s abandon, Nieve got into a break and stormed to a solo victory in the Dolomites on stage 13, the same mountain range that played host to his first Giro d’Italia victory. The result would also shoot him up to fourth in the mountains classification, and he would continue to edge ever nearer with two strong performances in the final mountain stages of the race.
“I serve the interests of the team and in this case, I was here to work for Mikel. Unfortunately, he retired sick, and I took my opportunities,” said Nieve. “For sure, I love the Dolomites. Here, I took my victory in 2011 on a tough day in a beautiful area, although we didn’t have time to enjoy the postcard landscapes.
“Afterwards, the jersey came closer with my escape on the first day in the Alps, passing over the Agnello with the leaders and then finishing second in Risoul. In the morning of the second Alpine stage, I set myself the challenge of taking the jersey.”
Nieve made good on his ambition, crossing the first mountain in fourth place before going on a solo mission over the top of the second. He held on to take points on the next two ascents, more than enough to secure himself the maglia azzurra.
"Mikel is one of the best climbers in the world,” Team Sky DS Dario Cioni told Teamsky.com. “When he was called up to the Giro at late notice, we promised we would look after him and let him concentrate on the mountain stages, and now he's got a stage win, a second place and the mountains jersey. That's a pretty big achievement. I'm sure he won't complain about this Giro.”