Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) was able to enjoy his first day in the maglia rosa as the Giro d'Italia remembered the legendary Fausto Coppi in his home town of Novi Ligure on the 50th anniversary of his death.
The 25-year-old Italian finished 28th on the stage, near the front of the peloton to avoid any splits and crashes, but out of the way of the sprinters and their lead-out trains.
"Today was a quiet day. We rode well early on to keep the race under control and then in the finale the race came alive and the sprinter's teams did the work. I stayed well protected near the front with Ivan Basso. Fortunately nobody crashed but a lot of riders wanted to stay near the front and there were riders taking a lot of risks. It wasn't as easy at it might have seemed."
Nibali wore pink shorts and pink glasses but admitted the race organisers had struggled to find a pink jersey that fit him.
"They gave me a small at first but it was too big, so I've no got an extra-small. I've had four pink jerseys all together, although I gave one to Faustino Coppi (the son of Fausto Coppi).
"I slept with the pink jersey resting on my suitcase after reading a lot of emails and messages from friends and people in my fan club. One of the nicest was from former teammate Andrea Noe', saying: 'Now you know what it's like to wear the pink jersey.'
"He's right, it's pretty special. It takes up a lot of time but it's worth it. I don't want to make any predictions about how long I can keep it because it could bring bad luck. I don't know if I can win the Giro but I'll try and keep the jersey for as long as possible."
The stage passed through the tiny village of Castellania where Fausto Coppi was born and ended close to the museum dedicated to Coppi and earlier cycling legend Costante Girardengo, who won the Giro d'Italia twice and Milan-San Remo six times.
Nibali admitted he had learned about Coppi by watching a video his father had given him.
"I know the roads from Italian national team training camps but wearing the pink on Coppi's roads and going through Castellania was something I won't forget for a long time," he said.
"I'm too young to remember him winning but history teaches us he was a true great of the sport, like Gino Bartali form Tuscany. It's difficult to compare then and now. Cycling in the fifties was heroic. Each team only had 12 or 13 riders and raced all year. Perhaps the only thing that hasn't changed is the suffering on the climbs. It still hurts."
Thursday's 172km sixth stage finishes in Marina di Carrara, in the northern tip of Tuscany. Nibali has made Mastromarco, a small town near Florence, his home ever since he left Sicily at the age of 16 to ride for an amateur team. The many members of his fan club have already promised Nibali they will be there to welcome him home if he can keep the maglia rosa for another day.
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