As the decisive mountain stages of the Giro d'Italia loomed large across the Veneto plain, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) was hesitant about his chances of defeating Richard Carapaz (Movistar) and winning his home Grand Tour for a third time but hinted he is ready to sacrifice another podium spot for an ultimate chance of victory.
Nibali distanced Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) with an all-out attack on the Mortirolo on Tuesday but seemed to pay for his efforts on Wednesday's finish to Anterselva. He tried to recover and refresh his legs on Thursday's long stage down into the Veneto region, knowing that the next three days of the Corsa Rosa will decide who pulls on the final maglia rosa in Verona on Sunday.
The hundreds of fans who waited outside the Bahrain-Merida bus after the stage to Santa Maria di Sala and the millions watching across Italy home hope Nibali can put Carapaz and his Movistar team to the sword.
The 34-year-old Sicilian seems inspired by the daily affection from the tifosi and would love to pull off another exploit but he knows he needs to find another magical moment and distance Carapaz, his teammate Mikel Landa and Roglic.
"Finishing second or third doesn't count for anything but I have to see what the legs say, and I also have to have respect for the team which has always given me great support these past days. I have to think about what they've given for me out of a sense of respect for them," Nibali said, revealing the many factors that influence a race strategy and final objectives.
"I've come to a moment where I've already won two editions of the Giro. I'm in the fight and I certainly want to fight for a third Giro.
Saturday's final mountain stage is expected to be the decisive stage of this year's race. It includes five major climbs and the mountain finish on the Croce d'Aune and Monte Avena.
Italian national coach Davide Cassani has suggested Nibali should attack on the Passo Manghen – one of longest climb of this year's race and now the highest after the removal of the Passo Gavia. It is 150km from the finish but Cassani believes Nibali should go all in, risking his podium spot for a third Giro d'Italia victory and a place in history.
Nibali laughed out loud when told of Cassani's suggestion to 'do a Froome'.
"If you have the legs, you could go all in but I don't know how I'll feel in two days. If the legs aren't there it would be difficult to make an attack like Froome's. They're very risky attacks because you just blow up completely and lose everything" he pondered.
"You need the legs to do an attack like that. You also need a really strong team that sets down a really high tempo. I'll have to see how my teammates are, we'll have to decide how to play our cards. Every Giro has its own story, every race has its own story, and every stage has its own story, it's won't be straightforward."
"There are these two days coming up that are very difficult. At the end of the Giro, the energy levels are what they are for everybody. Some people have a bit more, others a bit less but it's not easy. We have to take on three very difficult days – tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and the final time trial. We'll see. I've nothing to lose. Whatever happens, va bene."
Nibali then waved to the crowds outside the Bahrain-Merida bus and began signing autographs and patiently posing for selfies.
"There are many things that can help you and push you on, including the people who are here to support me," he explained.
I've felt a lot of warmth throughout the whole Giro. I have to thank the public for their support and patience because often it's not possible to fulfill all their requests because there's not a lot of time. But their support and the adrenaline it gives you find that little bit extra."
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