After losing the pink jersey in a crash on the unmade roads of Tuscany 12 months ago, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) was always likely to be vigilant on the sterrato near Orvieto on stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia.
Although he didn't gain any time on his rivals for the pink jersey, crossing the line in sixth place on the day, the Sicilian offered a statement of intent when he launched a daring but short-lived raid on the gravel-strewn descent of the Croce di Fighine.
"I was trying to limit the risks given what happened last year," Nibali said after crossing the line in the splendid hilltop town of Orvieto. "The idea was to try to stay in the first positions at all times."
Nibali explained that his acceleration was not so much an attack as an attempt to ensure that he stayed clear of trouble. A descender of some note, he was keen not to get caught up in a crash.
"When it came to the descent, I preferred to go alone because at least that way, if I made a mistake it would have been my own and not somebody else's," he said. "I wanted to depend on myself."
Last year's epic day over the strade bianche to Montalcino meant that Wednesday's stage had been earmarked by the overall contenders as an early test of their maglia rosa credentials. Nibali had taken the time to reconnoitre the stage in the company of his team beforehand, and he felt that their work had paid dividends.
"I'd tried it with Capecchi and Agnoli, two of my best teammates," he said. "It was a difficult stage but I think we got over it well. We tried to avoid any dangers, so I'm pleased with the team."
Nibali's brief rally off the front was not enough to rid himself of any of his rivals for overall victory, and he remains two seconds clear of Michele Scarponi and six seconds ahead of Alberto Contador. "The Giro still has yet to start," Nibali said.
And his chances of finding a way to beat Contador? "It'll be difficult," he said, grinning, and pedalled off past Orvieto's magnificent duomo to the applause of the home fans.
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