It wasn’t quite Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira in the tunnel at Highbury all those years ago, but the awkwardness was palpable when Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) crossed paths at the sign-on in Saint-Vincent ahead of stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia. A half-smile of acknowledgement, but no handshake. The polemica of the previous day, it seemed, was still raw.
“It’s all part of the game, we’re fighting to win the Giro,” Nibali said of his lament that Roglic had marked him and him alone on the Colle del Nivolet. Roglic, for his part, sheepishly brushed off a question about whether he would accept Nibali’s sarcastic invitation to follow him to his Lugano home and have his picture taken in front of Lo Squalo’s trophy cabinet. “Not really,” Roglic said. “Let’s race first, then we can talk.”
A little over four hours later, after Nibali and Roglic had raced over five climbs before finishing together in in Courmayeur, there seemed to be a mild thaw in relations. They came home together, 1:54 down on stage winner and new maglia rosa Richard Carapaz (Movistar), and after eyeing one another closely all day, they found themselves side-by-side once again outside the anti-doping caravan past the finish line.
Nibali was walking out, just as Roglic was walking in. They didn’t quite sit down and talk about the glory days, but Nibali offered a fist to Roglic, who awkwardly bumped back. Peace in our time.
“I’m Sicilian, so as Montalbano would say, it was breaking my cabbasisi a bit,” Nibali joked, a nod to Andrea Camilleri’s fictional and occasionally irascible detective. “The anger was understandable in that moment. There was a bit of anger, but we talked since.”
On Friday afternoon, Nibali sharply criticised Roglic’s reluctance to work in the group of favourites when Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Carapaz escaped in turn on the Nivolet. On Saturday, he struck a more conciliatory tone about the workload shouldered by Roglic and Jumbo-Visma during the stage, even if the end result was a similar one.
Carapaz, by dint of gaining almost two minutes, has leapfrogged them both in the overall standings. Roglic lies second at 7 seconds, with Nibali a further 1:40 back in third. The Ecuadorian is suddenly a very realistic threat for final overall victory, but it appears that Nibali and Roglic continue to have eyes only for one another.
“Today Roglic had a different kind of attitude in the race. I took my responsibility and he took his, and we all rode in the right way because we have a common objective, and we wanted to honour the Giro to the end,” Nibali said, and then grinned: “I think we did that today by calmly smacking each other in the teeth.”
Nibali had set his Bahrain-Merida team to work on the day’s principal difficulty, the Colle San Carlo, and he made two sharp accelerations of his own on the category 1 climb, with Roglic, Carapaz, Landa and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) following on each occasion.
Neither Roglic nor Nibali deigned to react, however, when Carapaz punched clear near the summit. Nibali tried to place Roglic under pressure once again on the sinuous descent, but neither man seemed especially committed to the pursuit on the short final haul towards Courmayeur, where a grateful Carapaz extended his buffer. Nibali won the sprint for third place to snatch back 4 bonus seconds from Roglic, but he acknowledged the gain was a symbolic one.
“It’s not nothing but in the end, it was mainly to have something to show for all the good work we did today,” Nibali said. “The race was hard from the first kilometre. I won’t hide that my sensations today weren’t super but then bit by bit, I started to feel better and better.
“On the hardest climb of the day, I said, ‘Let’s set the tempo a bit, Damiano Caruso’s out in front so when I get back up to him, we’ll force it a bit more.’ There weren’t many of us left at the top, but not much happened. Well, something happened. But we’ve come through this first trio of hard stages quite well.”
While Nibali opted for a diplomatic critique of Roglic’s tactical approach in Courmayeur, his coach Paolo Slongo damned the Slovenian’s contribution to the pursuit of Carapaz with the faintest of praise. It was not, he suggested, an entirely wholehearted effort.
“When Roglic was working, Carapaz was gaining time, so let’s just say he was riding in front of the others,” said Slongo, though he looked to put a positive spin on Carapaz’s definitive entry into the battle for final overall victory.
In the past two days, Carapaz has gained almost four minutes on his rivals, and his form on this Giro – allied to the pedigree of his 4th place finish from last year – make him a very live threat to the established order.
“Carapaz maybe the strongest climber in this Giro after Vincenzo so the cards have been shuffled a bit. He’s another rival and, above all, a direct rival for Roglic,” Slongo said. “We’re happy the cards have been shuffled. We’re not the only ones who need to be watched now, there are several others too.”
Nibali, for his part, played a straight bat when asked if he felt Roglic had deliberately tempered his efforts in the finale in order to avoid taking on the burden of wearing maglia rosa. “It’s hard to say, I don’t know,” Nibali said. “He rode well, we worked with us, unlike the previous days, and that’s good. We’re all playing it in the same way.”
Sunday’s miniature Tour of Lombardy from Ivrea to Como, meanwhile, will see Nibali on familiar – and friendly – terrain before the Giro breaks for its second rest day. “Tomorrow’s another hard stage,” Nibali said. “It’s not a stroll.”