In vino veritas? Such were the conditions during the Giro d'Italia's stage 9 time trial through Chianti country, it was hard to say if the old proverb held water for this particular race of truth. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was the best of the overall contenders, who all set out beneath sheets of rain, yet he did not make the kind of gains he might have anticipated on his principal rivals.
Nibali placed 19th on the stage, 2:13 down on winner Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), who raced largely on dry roads, but only 7 seconds clear of a surprising Mikel Landa (Sky) and 11 up on Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). On crossing the line, Nibali gamely looked to view the glass as being half full.
"My sensations were good, I was pedalling well on the climbs but I was very careful not to take risks on the descents because I could feel my rear wheel slipping in the wet and I didn't want to end up on the ground," Nibali said after wheeling to a halt past the finish line in Greve in Chianti.
Nibali was only six seconds ahead of Valverde and Landa through the first time check after 11 kilometres, though he appeared to be pedalling smoothly every time the road climbed. On the final, twisting descent from Panzano in Chianti, however, Nibali opted for a cautious approach, gingerly negotiating the final bends before the finish.
"I went flat out on the first climb and I was a few seconds up but I didn't want to take any risks in the final part. It was very nervous on the descent but I think I did a good time trial," he said. "I had to take the last corner very gently, too."
Such prudence was not misplaced. Shortly after Nibali wheeled away from the scrum of reporters on the line, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) – at one point destined to take the pink jersey – came a cropper on that same corner, and has now slipped to 11th overall, more than a minute down on Nibali.
Valverde and Landa, however, remain rather closer than Nibali would have liked at this particular juncture. As the Giro breaks for its first rest day, Nibali lies 5th overall, 53 seconds down on leader Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep), but only 2 seconds up on Valverde and 25 seconds ahead of Landa.
On the eve of the time trial, Astana coach Paolo Slongo estimated that Nibali could gain a minute or more on Landa over the 40-kilometre test. He was speaking from experience, of course, having worked with the Basque at close quarters during his two years at Astana. His apparent improvement against the watch since joining Sky this season came as a surprise.
"Landa went strongly. Certainly compared to last year he's going a lot stronger in the time trial," Nibali said. "He's clearly growing in form and in the final week he's going to be a contender for the win overall. Today showed that he's already going very well."
Nibali set out on his effort still digesting tragic news from his native Sicily. On returning from his morning reconnaissance of the time trial course, he learnt that Rosario Costa, a 14-year-old member of his underage team ASD Nibali, was killed when he crashed on a training ride with his father and friends in the hinterland of Messina on Sunday morning.
Called to appear on RAI television's Processo alla Tappa programme after the finish, Nibali needed time to compose himself before giving his reaction to the tragic loss of a young life. "Down in Sicily this morning a boy from ASD Nibali lost his life in a crash and it's the worst news we could have had," Nibali said, his voice raw. "I want to pass on my condolences to Rosario's father and his family. My thoughts are with them."
More in this story:
- Giro d'Italia stage 9 - Finish line quotes
- Giro d'Italia stage 9 - Video highlights
- Cancellara abandons Giro d'Italia
- Landa delighted with powerful time trial ride in Giro d'Italia