Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) smiled on the podium of Il Lombardia as if he had won. His second place behind an untouchable Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) was a personal victory and a source of huge satisfaction, coming just three months since a spectator-caused crash on stage 12 of the Tour de France to L’Alpe d’Huez left him with a fractured vertebrae.
Nibali wanted a third victory at Il Lombardia; he wanted to dedicate victory to his wife on their wedding anniversary and remember his grandfather who died this year. He wanted to prove that he was back to his best and that the pain and suffering of the last three months was worth it.
His daughter, Emma, stood proudly with her dad on the podium, thinking he had won. The many Italian tifosi also cheered Nibali as if he had won Il Lombardia too.
“I’d hoped to win for lots of reasons, and I never ride to finish second, but Pinot was on a great day. There was nothing else I could do. Pinot deserved to win,” Nibali said sportingly.
“I’ve given it everything to get back to my best, but it’s been difficult. I was always playing catch up. The doctors said I’d need three months to recover without the operation, and it’s been three months now, so to finish second at Il Lombardia makes what I’ve been through worth it. It’s definitely a kind of victory for me.”
Nibali was expecting a battle with Pinot and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), but a different race emerged over the top of the steep Colma di Sormano. Valverde was surprisingly isolated and struggling. Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) had forced the pace on the double-digit gradient of the wall of Sormano, then Nibali and Pinot seized the initiative.
“Roglic had got a gap, but he was in sight and so I closed the gap. Then Pinot joined me and pushed on, so I went with him. I looked back, saw it was a good move and so we kept going. The race was perhaps decided that moment,” Nibali explained, with the view only a rider who has been in the thick of the action can explain.
“I wasn’t fully convinced because it was a long way out from the finish. But then Roglic got back and Bernal got on, too, so we worked together. After that it played out on the Civiglio. I gave it everything, but Pinot was just too strong and got away to do the descent on his own.”
Nibali was clearly tired as he tried to chase Pinot on the road to Como. He was eventually caught by the chase group but continued to ride intelligently.
I wanted to finish on the podium so I played my cards carefully,” he explained.
“I knew there were some riders were coming across to me on the climb, but I never looked back until the top of the climb. I saw they’d gone deep to catch me, while I’d paced my effort carefully. I only needed to kick one more time to go clear and make it to the finish and take second.”