Vincenzo Nibali is known for his bike handling and descending skills and used them well after the finish of the Giro d'Italia's stage 14, weaving through a media scrum, dozens of tifosi calling his name and a line of team cars to escape down to the Bahrain-Merida team bus parked five kilometres back down the climb.
He perhaps understandably had no desire to talk after his lack of sufficient high-end climbing power was exposed yet again on the 11.8km climb to the Oropa sanctuary made famous by Marco Pantani and his incredible comeback from a dropped chain in 1999.
That day Pantani appeared unbeatable, almost mythical. Saturday, Nibali looked very average as he tried to limit his losses to Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and even Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Mikel Landa (Team Sky) after being dropped as the chasers pulled back Nairo Quintana (Movistar) with two kilometres to go. Nibali was initially well-placed as the front group whittled down under the speed of the Movistar pace. He was not able to follow Dumoulin when he set off in pursuit of Quintana and was then exposed when the racing for the stage victory kicked off. While others kicked again and fought for position, Nibali lost contact.
He fought for every second but was suffering. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) had been dropped earlier but caught and passed Nibali close to the finish line, a clear indication that the shark had lost his bite.
The clock confirmed that Nibali lost 43 seconds to a rampant Dumoulin, who picked up a further 10-second time bonus. Nibali lost 29 seconds to Quintana, who was fighting his own losses to Dumoulin.
After crossing the finish, Nibali was protected by his loyal support worker Michele Palini and then quickly made his escape. A policewoman tried to stop Nibali riding onto the route of the race but he was determined to get away and did so, slipping between other riders coming up the climb and race vehicles. He was lucky to escape a fine for riding on the course.
Nibali had no intention of stopping ands only spoke briefly later. On Friday he had predicted to Cyclingnews that it would be Dumoulin's day and found consolation from being right.
"Dumoulin was my favourite and I was proved right," he said. "The climb really suited him. He's got a lot of power and could push really hard in the final."
"I paid for my efforts in the final part of the stage just like I did on the Blockhaus but I was expecting that. I had to ride defensively and so I did."
Of course everyone wanted to know about his performance and what losing time on the short climb to Oropa means for Nibali's chances in the mountainous third week of the Giro d'Italia and his chances of victory.
"My ride? A one-off climb is less favored for me," Nibali argued, clearly hoping That he can use his innate aggression and experience to somehow gain time from Dumoulin on stage 16 to Bormio, stage 18 through the Dolomites and the tough mountain finish to Piancavallo next Friday on stage 19.
"From Tuesday, the Giro will go into the Alps and I hope to be able to recover my gap in the overall standings."
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