Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) partially made up and became allies out on the road on the second mountain stage of the Giro d’Italia to Courmayeur on Saturday, but their mind games and rivalry continued to influence the racing, with Roglic happy to let Richard Carapaz (Movistar) take the race leader’s pink jersey and the pressure and responsibility that comes with it.
Nibali continued with his personal race against the Slovenian. He moved up from fifth to third overall after the five climbs during the 131km stage forced the real overall contenders to emerge. However, Nibali is now 1:47 down on Carapaz and 1:40 behind Roglic, with one major mountain stage less to race.
The removal of the Passo Gavia from stage 16 due to the risk of avalanches and ice plays into Roglic’s favour, and the final stage 17km time trial around Verona is expected to give him a further cushion of valuable seconds.
Roglic is arguably in charge of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, but after his defensive tactics during stage 13, Nibali’s blunt criticism and his refusal to speak post-stage, Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma team seem to have realised the Giro d’Italia is also won via the media, especially when you are trying to beat the only Italian contender in the racer.
Roglic was selected for anti-doping after the finish in Courmayeur and stopped briefly to speak before riding to the Jumbo-Visma team bus. He was, as ever, curt and defensive but confirmed he and Nibali had swapped a fist pump in the anti-doping area.
It perhaps wasn’t the end of their rivalry, but it was a sign of reciprocal respect.
“Yeah, we did,” Roglic admitted, denying there are any problems with Nibali.
“I don’t think so. We’re here to race. That is what we do.”
Roglic was not interested in responding to Nibali’s comments and especially the Sicilian’s sarcastic invitation to Roglic to follow him all the way to his home so he could see his trophy cabinet.
“Let’s race first, then we can talk,” Roglic said with a smile, his mutant mask slipping briefly to reveal his own sense of humour.
“I am not here to comment on these things, I’m here to ride the bike.”
Accepting responsibility, racing hard
Roglic rode like a team leader and true overall contender on the stage to Courmayeur, accepting the responsibility his status carries. He put his young teammates on the front to chase the break of the day mid-stage and then responded to attacks from Nibali and others on the 10km 10 per cent Colle San Carlo climb.
When Nibali attacked on the descent, Roglic responded again and seemed ready to pull on the pink jersey in Courmayeur. However, perhaps after being advised from the Jumbo-Visma team car via the radio, he then eased up, let Carapaz get away and refused to help with any chase.
In a calculated risk, he preferred to let Carapaz take the pink jersey, even if means the Ecuadoran rider has moved up the general classification and become a serious overall threat in just two days in the mountains.
“It was hard day, eh. It’s easy to say, but it was a hard day…” he said, his poker face impossible to read yet again.
“So far, so good. I’m still in one piece and pretty healthy and looking forward to the rest of the race. There was not a lot of romantic things or tactic on the climb. We were all just full-gas.”
Carapaz leads Roglic by seven seconds, with Mikel Landa, the second half of Movistar’s GC strategy, now fifth at 2:50.
Roglic did not seem worried about their combined strength.
“We already had some days in pink and we saw how hard it is to control things. I’m happy with the place I’m in,” Roglic said, as cool as the snow covering the mountains overlooking Courmayeur.