Vin-cen-zo! Vin-cen-zo! A wall of sound followed Vincenzo Nibali all along the lakefront in Como, but he paid it little heed as he soft-pedalled his way from the makeshift RAI television studio near the finish line to the Bahrain-Merida team bus after stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia. Tifosi craned across roadside barriers for a better view, hollering their approval as he rode past, while Nibali casually held court with a group of journalists who jogged alongside him.
During the fraught finale kilometres of the stage, Nibali had proved equally adept at blocking out ambient noise. After flinging himself into the attack on the final climb of Civiglio with a little over 10km remaining, he had pulled out his radio earpiece in order to focus firmly on the task in hand.
On the sinuous descent that followed, teammate Domenico Pozzovivo radioed to relay the news that chief rival Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) had crashed in the chasing group, but Nibali had eyes only for the road ahead, as he powered towards the finish in the company of maglia rosa Richard Carapaz (Movistar), Hugh Carthy (EF Education First) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
Nibali crossed the line in 6th place on the stage, 11 seconds down on winner and earlier escapee Dario Cataldo (Astana), but 25 ahead of the chasers and 40 clear of the unfortunate Roglic. In the overall standings, Nibali is now third overall, 1:47 down on Carapaz, while his deficit on Roglic has been cut to just a minute.
“I didn’t hear anything about Roglic during the race as I’d taken out my earpiece in the finale because I was just focused on my attack in the final 10km,” Nibali said. “I didn’t want distractions or anything else. I didn’t know anything about it, I only heard about it at the finish.”
After limiting his losses to Roglic better than most in the San Marino time trial, Nibali had proceeded to pick up only a desultory 4 seconds in time bonuses on the Slovenian in the Giro’s first three days in the high mountains, during which the two principal favourites had marked one another tightly.
Too tightly, perhaps. Carapaz slipped away to take hold of the maglia rosa at Courmayeur on Saturday and proved himself a worthy race leader by being the only man capable of following Nibali’s double acceleration on the Civiglio in the finale of Sunday’s stage, a scaled-down version of the Tour of Lombardy.
“It was a very hard day because this second week was very difficult,” Nibali said. “There was a bit of tiredness but on the climb I tried to see a bit how the others would responded. I was even a bit worried because I didn’t know how I was, and I’d seen on the Sormano that the pace was very high. But when I saw that we were gaining a few metres, I got a bit of morale and we started to push on. Carapaz came with me and really gave me a hand and we managed to gain something.”
Roglic was riding teammate Antwan Tolhoek’s bike on the climb after suffering a mechanical issue while his Jumbo-Visma team car went missing in action in the finale, and for the first time on this Giro, he appeared to have been wrongfooted. Nibali and Carapaz disappeared from view to join Yates and Carthy up ahead, while Roglic’s desperate chase saw him ride into a crash barrier on the descent. By day’s end, he had conceded 40 seconds to Nibali.
“It’s something good,” Nibali said of the gains made on Roglic. “In the first week, it was very flat and so it was just important to avoid crashes or getting caught behind. In the second week, the climbs started and Roglic showed himself to be very solid, and so has Carapaz, who is very explosive on the climbs and is going very well – but now we’re going into the third week.”
The Giro breaks for its second rest day on Monday, when both Nibali and Roglic will hold press conferences at precisely the same time. Even in repose, the man-to-man marking continues, but on RAI’s Processo alla Tappa analysis show on Sunday, Nibali conceded that they had erred in allowing Carapaz so much leeway on the previous two days in the high mountains. The Ecuadorian, 4th overall a year ago, rode with notable assurance on his first day in pink.
“Carapaz is in also in contention now for overall victory at the Giro,” Nibali said. “It was my mistake but, above all, Roglic’s to give him so much space [at Ceresole Reale on stage 13 – ed.] Roglic played the classic amateur game, as soon as I moved over, he braked and let the gap open. The others obviously went, and he said to me, ‘you go.’ I had just finished riding on the front – was I the only one who had to pull? He has the time trial on his side but if he rides only against me, then we’ll bring a lot of other riders into the mix.”
For now, the race may have the appearance of three-way tussle between Nibali, Carapaz and Roglic, but the severity of the final week and the numerous tactical permutations mean that men further down the rankings will still harbour hopes of emerging as threats in the Giro’s dying days. Simon Yates, for instance, may be 5:24 back in 8th place overall, but he has shown signs of improvement on consecutive days.
“I’m not underestimating anyone,” Nibali said. “I saw that Yates is recovering. He was in front today. Perhaps he will try to force something. He is five minutes down, which is a lot, but he has shown that his condition is coming.”
Alberto Contador visited the Giro on Sunday afternoon, and the two-time winner – he was stripped of his 2011 title after a retroactive doping ban – sought out Nibali near the podium area to compliment him on his aggressive showing on the shores of Lake Como.
“When Alberto raced, he was never beaten, and the same is true for me," Nibali said. "When he rode, finishing third, fourth or fifth didn’t count for him. Only winning counted, and it’s the same for me.”