Nibali loses ground on first summit finish of Giro d'Italia

On the eve of the Giro d'Italia's first summit finish at Roccaraso, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) gnomically told reporters that the stage "could tell us something or it could tell us nothing." The Sicilian certainly looked intent on delivering a message of his own when he bounded forcefully from the pink jersey group with a little over three kilometres remaining, but it was promptly returned to sender.

Nibali was attempting to bridge across to his teammate Jakob Fuglsang, who had attacked earlier on the climb, but his effort faded in the headwind. Yet shortly afterwards, however, maglia rosa Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) succeeded where Nibali had failed, gliding across to Fuglsang in the company of danger man Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale).

In the closing kilometre, Nibali paid further for his effort, dropping towards the rear of the chasing group, and then losing contact when it fragmented within sight of the line. He came home in 17th place on the stage, conceding 21 seconds to Dumoulin and 7 to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and now drops to 9th on general classification, some 47 seconds off the lead.

"I think our tactics were wrong, apart from the first part with Fuglsang, because that was what we wanted to do. I maybe put too much trust in the words I was getting over the radio and I made a move at the wrong time," Nibali told the reporters who huddled around the steps of the Astana bus after the finish.

"Today's tactics changed during the stage. I was going to wait for the finale because we knew this wasn't a climb that suits me very well. But then they told me that if I was good, I should have a go. I had a go, but really I should have sat on and waited."

Indeed, fifteen minutes earlier, after a worn Nibali had climbed wordlessly aboard the bus, directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli had already issued a mea culpa of sorts, acknowledging that it had been an error to attack alone on a headwind section.

"Maybe we made a mistake from the team car, asking Vincenzo to attack when there was that wind," Martinelli said. "The idea was for him to bridge across the Fuglsang. This won't affect the rest of the Giro much but I think the tactics were wrong."

Even so, one might expect that a rider as experienced as Nibali – and particularly one who places such store on following his own instincts – would have had the initiative to shake off the instructions from the race radio, like an NFL quarterback calling an audible on a risky play call.

"My sensations were good. If not, I wouldn't have tried that attack, and even after having a go, I was able to stay up there with the faster guys for a finish like this," Nibali said. "These are very explosive finishes for fast riders. We have to wait for the high mountains where the gradients are steeper. This didn't have an extreme gradient. It was fine on the wheels today but it was hard out in the wind."

More on the story:

Dumoulin surprises

While losing a handful seconds to Valverde might not have been altogether surprising on such a climb, Tom Dumoulin's audacity in the finale was less in keeping with the expected script. For all that he has downplayed his overall aspirations, Dumoulin already carries a lead of 47 seconds over Nibali and will expect to add to it in the Chianti time trial on Sunday. The Dutchman, Nibali acknowledged, now poses a credible threat.

"He surprised us a bit because from what we'd seen on the previous climb, it didn't seem as though he was pedaling that well. But he hid himself very well and when he attacked, he attacked very hard," Nibali said.

"I'd already made an acceleration so following him at that moment was really very hard. It was hard for the others too because nobody else went after him, it wasn't just me. We all know who Dumoulin is and he showed what he can do today, so we'll all have to ride with a lot more attention. This Giro will be a long, hard race and we've got a very important rival in Dumoulin."

Asked if there would be a tactical debriefing after dinner at the Astana hotel in Raiano on Thursday night, Nibali was succinct. "I think today the team car got it wrong," Nibali said. "Ask them."

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Barry Ryan
Head of Features

Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.