After limiting his losses to Bradley Wiggins and taking the pink jersey at the end of the Giro d’Italia’s stage 8 time trial, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) moved on to his next challenge – downplaying home expectations.
On the technical, demanding and long (54.8km) course from Gabicce Mare to Saltara, Nibali came home 4th behind winner Alex Dowsett and, more importantly in terms of the bigger picture, finished just 11 seconds behind Wiggins.
That showing leaves Nibali with 1:16 in hand on Wiggins in the overall standings at a point when he surely expected to be trailing the Englishman and looking to make up ground in his favoured terrain of the mountains.
“You can’t say that I’ve got the Giro in the bag,” Nibali said in his post-race press conference. “Nothing’s a given. I don’t underestimate [Michele] Scarponi, [Cadel] Evans, [Ryder] Hesjedal or even Wiggins. He’ll be there fighting until the end.”
While Evans lies just 29 seconds back and Scarponi has moved himself up to 5th overall at 1:24, Wiggins was widely viewed beforehand as the man most likely to prevent Nibali from winning the Giro. After all but breaking even with Wiggins on his favoured terrain, the pendulum has surely swung in Nibali’s favour but the Astana man was keen to point out that the undulating nature of the time trial course had levelled the playing field.
“This was a hard time trial with a lot of changes of rhythm and there were parts of it that favoured lighter climbers, in particular the opening sections,” said Nibali, who even held the best time at the first intermediate check after 26km. “I wouldn’t say that Wiggins was a disappointment today, it just that it wasn’t precisely the kind of flat course that suits him best.”
The “script” for this Giro d’Italia had anticipated that Nibali would be forced to go on the offensive in the closing two weeks in a bid to make up time on Wiggins. Instead, he finds himself with the overall lead and a different tactical outlook. Astana, and not Sky, will look to control the race in the coming days, although Nibali promised not to curb his attacking instincts completely.
“I’ll look to defend the jersey and my rivals will certainly look to attack me,” Nibali said. “In this first part of the Giro, I’ve stayed pretty covered and only gone on the attack once so far [on stage 7 to Pescara]. If there’s a chance to gain seconds in the in the stages to come ahead then I’ll go for it, but I’ll also defend myself against my rivals.”
Asked if he had taken the jersey too early, Nibali suggested that the aim was simply to keep calm and carry on. “We’ll try not to lose it and we’ll try to stay calm,” he said. “Being tranquillo is part of who I am and when I’m relaxed I can give 100 percent."