BRESCIA, Italy (AFP) —Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) secured his maiden Giro d’Italia title on Sunday as Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took his fifth stage win on the 21st and final leg into Brescia.
Nibali finished the weather-battered 96th edition with a lead of 4 minutes and 43 seconds over Rigoberto Uran (Sky) with Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) third at 5:52.
After negotiating the final stage successfully, an emotional Nibali said: “I’ve achieved one of my lifetime dreams. I can’t believe it. It’s unbelievable.”
It was Nibali’s first victory on the three-week Italian race, in which he finished third in 2010 and runner-up in 2011. Last year, he finished third overall on the Tour de France, won by Sky’s Bradley Wiggins.
Nibali succeeds Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) as winner of the race’s maglia rosa after the Canadian, followed by an ailing Wiggins, dropped out before the final week due to illness.
The 28-year-old Nibali is the first Sicilian to win the race and is the first Italian winner since Michele Scarponi, who was handed the 2011 title following Alberto Contador’s disqualification for doping offenses.
Nibali took possession of the pink jersey after the stage-8 time trial won by Alex Dowsett, and despite a strong challenge from Evans he took a massive step towards overall victory with his victory in Thursday’s 18th stage, a 20.6km uphill time trial.
It took his lead over Evans, the 2011 Tour de France champion, to over four minutes.
After the first of two consecutive days in the Dolomites mountains was canceled on Friday due to snow and sub-zero temperatures at high altitude, Nibali capped his campaign with a second stage win atop the Tre Cime di Lavaredo climb on Saturday, which saw Evans drop to third.
Having crashed twice on stage seven, Nibali then had to endure, with the rest of the peloton, a rain-lashed and snow-blasted second half of the race.
For Wiggins the 7th stage was his demise – The crash on a right-hand bend on the final descent into Pescara looked relatively innocuous but Sir Bradley Wiggins’s chances of winning theGiro d’Italia took a serious knock as the seventh stage reached a climax on Friday when the Tour de France winner lost almost 90 seconds on his main rivals, dropping from sixth to 23rd overall.
Although his team principal, Sir Dave Brailsford, said Wiggins had no physical ill effects, he rode in looking stiff and bruised the day before the vital time trial where he intended to strike his first blow. It was a massive contrast to his seamless progress through the first week of last year’s Tour de France, where he rode his luck throughout. Momentum matters in a three-week Tour, and now he is swimming against the tide.
Friday’s stage contained a rash of steep climbs towards the end, but it was the descents which really mattered as they were tackled in heavy rain. Cornering became a lottery – and many besides Wiggins drew losing tickets. Amid the chaos, the Australian Adam Hansen emerged unscathed to win the stage having attacked early on in the day’s main escape, then struck out alone in the final 20 kilometres. It was a fine win for a team worker who last year rode all three major Tours, Spain, Italy and France.
Wiggins, who detests wet and cold conditions such as these, had not looked at his ease as the stage progressed, dropping behind on the later descents and appearing to become irritated when the race television camera sat alongside him to capture his sufferings. He was already a little way behind the other overall contenders when he lost control on a tight right-hander during the descent from the final climb of the day, San Silvestro. The need to catch up probably played its part.
He slid briefly, and was rapidly back on his bike, but he did not look comfortable. He took the remaining bends at a pace more befitting a cycle tourist and had to wait until the foot of the descent before receiving any help from his two team-mates, the Colombians Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Urán, who had himself had an awkward-looking tangle of wheels on a climb earlier on. Even then, Wiggins looked to be struggling to stay with the pair.
“Can you remember a Giro that’s finished without the riders coming home with a tan?” Nibali said. “The weather made the race all the more difficult. But I sincerely believe that if there had been more climbs the result would have been the same. I felt I had the edge over the others.”
Evans agreed that the Sicilian was a worthy champion, and said he would now concentrate on the Tour.
“Beating Nibali with the kind of form he was in was always going to be difficult,” said Evans. “Now I’ll prepare for the Tour. That’s the big objective of the team this year.”
Cavendish, meanwhile, finished a triumphant campaign in style by dominating a hectic sprint for the finish on a tight circuit to take his victory tally on the race to 15.
The Isle of Man rider came into the race expected to dominate most of the five sprint finishes, especially in the absence of a number of top rivals.
He won the opening stage in Naples and stages 6, 12, 13 and 21.
“I’m delighted, really happy,” Cavendish said in Italian.
The Omega Pharma sprinter, who also has 23 stage wins on the Tour de France and three from the Vuelta a España, also secured the race’s red jersey for the points competition.
Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale), meanwhile, secured the race’s white jersey for the best-placed rider aged 25 or under.
He took the jersey from Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) after his fourth-place finish on Saturday’s epic 20th stage, when the peloton climbed through a blizzard to the finish.
Betancur finished in fifth place overall