May 29, 2016 – Some will call Vincenzo Nibali’s dramatic Giro d’Italia victory on Sunday lucky, but it served as a reminder that ‘The Shark’ is dangerous when in deep water.
Three years after the Italian sealed a maiden pink jersey with an epic ride through the snowy Dolomites mountains, a second Giro triumph looked out of reach when Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk opened up a huge lead in the final week of a thrilling 99th edition.
Over two intense days in the mountains, pre-race favourite Nibali went from trailing the ginger-haired Dutchman by 41secs to seemingly out of contention at 4min 43sec. But ‘Lo Squalo’ (The Shark) has a habit of biting back at his rivals. And when Kruijswijk crashed into a snow bank early on the descent of the Colle d’Agnello climb bordering France and Italy on Friday, the race for pink was suddenly back on two days before the finish.
On stage 19, Nibali forged ahead to victory on the summit finish at Risoul in France, where he also won on his road to Tour de France triumph in 2014. Like a great white patiently circling his prey, Nibali was unforgiving when he went in for the kill.
“Steven Kruijswijk had a good advantage after the Dolomites but I knew the highest mountains were yet to come,” said Nibali. “Riding above 2000 meters isn’t easy for anyone but I felt comfortable. Kruijswijk crashed… but towards the summit of the Colle d’Agnello I noticed he was breathing heavily so I put pressure on him climbing and then descending. Had I not, probably nothing would have happened and (Esteban) Chaves would have had an easy ride as well.”
Little Orica team climber Chaves took the race lead with a 44sec lead over Nibali on Friday, but trailed in behind the Italian the next day on the climb to Sant’Anna di Vinadio when Nibali pulled on the pink jersey. On Sunday, Nibali revealed he had been suffering from a stomach bug, news of which he kept to himself.
“I had a stomach bug during the Giro but it’s better not to tell everything sometimes,” he said.
It is not the first time the Sicilian has fought back from adversity to triumph in one of the world’s biggest bike races. He upset pre-race predictions to win the Tour de France in 2014, becoming the first Italian to do so since deceased climbing ace Marco Pantani in 1998.
And when he was excluded from the 2015 Tour of Spain for illicitly hanging on to the back of a team car following a crash, he blew away his shame with a stunning performance to win the Tour of Lombardy one-day classic weeks later.
Shy off the bike, the Sicilian becomes a fierce competitor on it — although he is known for his sensible side, too. After fighting his way back into victory contention in Risoul, Nibali wept tears of relief and joy as he hung his arms over the handlebars.
Nibali, 31, left his native Sicily for Tuscany as an ambitious 16-year-old to follow his dream, and has become one of the most formidable, and feared stage racers in the world. A strong climber with descending skills that have left more than one rival fearing for his safety, Nibali copes well in tough weather conditions.
He secured his maiden pink jersey on the penultimate stage in 2013 when he emerged through a snow blizzard to triumph atop Trois Cimes de Lavaredo in the Dolomites.
After Kruijswijk flew over the handlebars head-first into the snow on Friday, Nibali remarked: “Descents are just as much a part of racing as climbing.”
Next up is the Tour de France, where he is sure to meet tougher opposition in Spaniard Alberto Contador and Britain’s Chris Froome, both former yellow jersey champions. Nibali will then focus on Olympic gold in Rio this August.
After two weeks of tired legs ….
Colle Dell’Agnello – stage 19
The Colle Dell’Agnello marks the Giro’s passage into France for a couple of days and they’ll have to work hard to get up to the border.
While the Strava segment shows it as a nine kilometre climb, the riders go uphill for around 70km from Saluzzo to the border at the top of the climb.
The toughest gradients come near the top of the Agnello, maxing out at 15 per cent and holding at over nine per cent for much of the nine kilometres, with riders reaching the highest point of the whole race.
And that’s just the first climb of the day…
Risoul – stage 19
When the riders get into France it’s downhill all the way to the foot of the climb to Risoul, where stage 19 finishes.
It’s not the hardest climb in the world but the legs and bodies of the climbers will be cold from the very long descent from the Agnelle.
It maxes out at 10 per cent in the first third of the climb and from then is a steady 8.5 per cent to the top. With the GC still up for grabs it’ll likely to be a battle ground all the way up, with attacks likely to come on the preceding descent.
Col de Vars – stage 20
At just six per cent in average gradient, the Col de Vars shouldn’t cause any problems, but it’s the fact that it comes immediately at the start of stage 20 which makes it hard.
The riders will have to get their warm-ups done before the stage if they’re to be in any state to be up at the front of the peloton in the first 20km.
There’s not a metre of flat on the entire stage, making it one of the toughest in the whole race, so if there’s still anything to play for in the general classification, expect to see some action in these opening exchanges.
Col de la Bonette – stage 20
Once they’ve descended from the Col de Vars the peloton hits the even longer and even tougher Col de la Bonette, taking the riders up to over 2,700m.
It’ll be a long, cold descent down to Isola at the foot of the third big climb of the day, with almost 40km of downhill, interupted only by a little flat bit after 25km.
With the stage only 134km in length we could see attacks on the pink jersey wearer on the early climbs, just like we did on stage 16 on Tuesday.
Colle della Lombardia – stage 20
As if two 20km ascents weren’t enough, the organisers have chucked in a third one near the end to really test the climbers’ resolve.
The Col de la Lombarde brings the riders back into Italy for the final assault up to Sant’Anna di Vinado, where the finish line is located.
Like the first two climbs on the stage, the Lombarde isn’t particularly steep, it’s just relentlessly long, especially after the climbs that have come before.
It’s last chance saloon for GC contenders to launch their attacks, with the climb to the finish not really long enough to make up minutes of time.
Cycling weekly look at the climbs this week – exciting
We’ve had a few tough ascents so far in the Giro d’Italia, but we’ve not experienced the true mountain stages that the race is famous for just yet.
As the race heads north the number of climbs on the route increases and the less the sprinters look forward to the stages. Three of the six stages before the next rest day are over 200km in length and there are 16 categorised climbs to take in between now and Sunday.
The sprinters will have their fun on stage 12, but week two belongs to the climbers and here are five of the toughest tests they will face this week, including a mountain time trial on stage 15.
Forcella Mostaccin (stage 11)
It’s by no means the longest climb in the race at just shy of three kilometres in length, but coming at the end of a pan flat stage the Forcella Mostaccin climb could split the peloton.
With a maximum gradient of 16 per cent and an average of over 10 per cent for the last kilometre of the climb we could see a few attacks go off the front on this climb.
The race still has around 25km to go from the top, but the rolling nature of those final kilometres means it almost certainly won’t be a bunch gallop.
Montemaggiore (stage 13)
Montemaggiore probably won’t be a decisive climb in the Giro because it comes so close to the start of the stage – the climb starts at kilometre 48 – but it heralds the start of a tough stage for the climbers.
Just over eight kilometres in length, the climb averages nine per cent, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The first 2.5km kilometres are pretty straightforward, but then the hill ramps up to over 10 per cent for the rest of the climb, maxing out at 15 per cent in the final 500m.
There’s a sting in the tail of this one, and after a short descent the riders are heading uphill again on this very up-and-down stage.
Cima Porzus (stage 13)
The Montemaggiore climb earlier in the day may be more relentless, but after 130km of racing up and down mountains this climb of Cima Porzus could see a few riders crack.
Again, the climb averages nine per cent, but rarely does it go below that gradient. The riders will have to plug away for 8.5km at a steady gradient while they plan their finishing strategies.
This climb is followed by a shorter ascent to Valle, so attacks may come there rather than on the Cima Porzus, but this climb will certainly sort the men from the boys and the sprinters autobus will be stamping a lot of tickets.
Passo Giau (stage 14)
Anyone who has completed the Maratona dles Dolomites sportive will know the Passo Giau very well.
The scenery is stunning, but the ascent is pretty relentless. From Selva di Cadore the climb starts off hard (a kilometre at over 10 per cent) and continues in a similar fashion for the next seven kilometres.
Again, this climb might not be in a location to be the place of crucial attacks, with another climb following immediately afterwards, but it promises to be a great part of this year’s race. One for the breakaway, maybe.
Alpe di Siusi (stage 15 ITT)
As if riding up mountains wasn’t hard enough, imagine smashing it up as hard as you can with no teammates to help you out.
That’s what the riders face on the Alpe di Siusi on stage 15 as a mountain time trial could well separate some of the favourites for the maglia rosa.
Movistar‘s Andrey Amador holds the Strava KOM on the climb, set on a recce back in March, smashing up in 31 minutes at a modest 166 beats per minute on the heart rate monitor.
Piece of cake.
The challenge is on … go here
register a team – it’s free
then enter my new league – lets see how good/bad we can be ….
League Name: The bike Blog league
League Code: 02090731
My thoughts this year run as Nibali as outright winner … but Vivaldi might give it all this year. So spare 5 min and get your team sorted. Past experience has shown me that the longer I spend choosing the worse my results.
Great read as always from this man
Let’s start with something there’s a bit of an argument over. How many Giro d’Italia has Alberto Contador won? He clearly thinks it’s three but the UCI records says it’s only two as he was disqualified from the 2011 results.
The way I look at it, Contador rode that race, was tested if and when the controllers thought fit and he had the pink jersey at the end of it. So he won the 2011 edition and if he shouldn’t have been there because of the previous Tour de France clenbuterol affair then that ought to have been decided quickly. Not a year and a half later.
As in 2008, this year saw him with no individual stage success, which is kind of annoying but hardly devastating in the grand scheme of things. I’m sure Astana would gladly swap all their stage wins for the final top step of the podium if they were given the choice.
It’s too late, though, because Contador’s individual strengths proved greater than the Kazakh team’s numerical superiority despite the shoulder injury, his lack of teammates in the finale of the uphill finishes and rivals willing to exploit mechanical mishaps. After all the Giro wouldn’t be properly Italian without a bit of treachery and drama.
So when things got dirty for the race leader on the Colle delle Finestre it was entirely fitting that Astana took advantage and put Contador in trouble. Or was he?
Contador certainly didn’t like the road surface on the way up to the Cima Coppi, the highest point of the whole race. He appeared to be struggling as he couldn’t climb out of the saddle as much as he likes to because of the poor traction on the loose gravel and he didn’t help himself by choosing some really bad lines on the inside of the bends where the cars had cut up the surface even more.
He was suffering, of that there’s no doubt, but I don’t think he cracked in any significant way. I think he recognised he was about to go too deep into the red to keep following all the accelerations and he decided to let the others go and then manage the situation.
He lost 50 seconds by the summit but then held that gap for all of the descent and most of the valley towards Sestriere. You can’t do that if you’ve cracked, not with a slight headwind, slightly uphill and the other GC guys still riding strongly.
It would have been fatal for Contador if he was in a bad way. I think he bluffed a bit, let Astana and Nibali think he’s more vulnerable than he really is. Tour de France mind games start way before the prologue and that, with a temporary moment of difficulty, is what we might have seen on stage 20.
It would have been more worrying for Tinkoff if Astana had told Mikel Landa to wait for Fabio Aru sooner, or Aru had ridden with Hesjedal and Kruisjwijk straight away, but neither did what they had to do soon enough and the chance was lost. They missed a slim opening to really pressure Contador and win the race so that was another error they, the Astana collective, have to learn from.
It’s often said it’s not how good you are on your good days which matters but how good you are on your bad ones, and that was never more true for this Giro’s GC hopefuls.
Aru had his bad spell after around the second rest day, Landa’s time trial let him down and Hesjedal and Kruisjwijk came out of the first week way behind/Kudos to them although they all recovered remarkably.
Fabio Aru is progressing very well, third last year , second this and still only 24. He has a very bright future as does Mikel Landa, who surely won’t be on the market for long if he doesn’t stay at Astana . Is he the successor to Contador? Well that’s hard to tell, but he looks a solid athlete who, with some work on his time trial, will be a real threat.
With the Tour de France on the horizon, it’ll be interesting to see if the French Tour can be as exciting and dramatic as the Giro has been. Of course every team will field their A team for the most important race on the calendar, but if there are lessons to be taken from what we’ve just seen from the boys in blue at Astana, the other GC teams like Tinkoff, Movistar and Sky will have to be at the top of their game.
With so little individual time trialling, the climbing aspects of each team leader will take on a decisive role so getting those guys to the mountains safely and still in decent shape will be vital.
Anybody else wondering what will happen to Oleg Tinkov’s pink hair if Alberto Contador also wins the Tour? My Photoshop skills aren’t good enough but I’m sure there’s someone out there who can put together a little montage of our favourite Russian team boss sporting a suitable design on his head. #battenberg
playing virtual giro on velogames and he is my main hope – this article is quite cool.
Team Sky go into battle in Italy this month with Richie Porte a contender for the pink jersey. Chris Froome’s most trusted lieutenant has turned general this year, leading Team Sky from the front to take several stage race wins since the start of the season. Rapha sat down with the Australian to talk leadership, the sweet taste of victory and war stories from the road.
Hi Richie. You’ve had a brilliant start to the season, how does it feel?
It’s been more than I’d hoped for, especially after last season – the disaster that that was. To be honest, it’s quite surreal how well this season has gone so far. It’s always nice to win races like Paris-Nice, Catalunya and the Willunga stage of the Tour Down Under, but to be honest that all counts for nothing. The Giro is my big goal and that’s where I want to be at my best.
You have been in superb form since January. Is there ever a worry that you may have peaked early?
It’s not really difficult for me and that’s because we’ve got guys like Tim Kerrison and the [Team Sky] Performance Team behind us. I think Tim’s been fantastic with Brad [Wiggins] and Chris [Froome] over the years regarding when they’ve peaked and so I take confidence from that. I’m much more motivated this season than I have been in the past, and the Giro is my big opportunity to lead a team. I’m going to take that opportunity with both hands.
Why are you more motivated this year?
After you have a bad season, you look back on that and then think about how good it feels to win a race. It’s just an unbelievable feeling – for me that’s my motivation. To win any race is hard, but to have eight or nine victories like I have so far… it’s contagious.
After winning the Volta a Catalunya in March, you spoke about it giving you greater belief in yourself. Has confidence ever been a problem for you?
Confidence is a massive part of professional cycling. I’m confident in my ability, but to go to a race like Catalunya, which on paper wasn’t that great for me, up against someone in form like [Alejandro] Valverde, isn’t easy. And to win there, where I’ve only really got bad memories, it is a massive bonus for the morale.
How do you find being the team leader at races?
I wouldn’t say it is something that comes naturally to me but I’d say that over the years I’ve worked with some fantastic leaders, from Alberto [Contador] and the Schleck brothers when I was with Saxo, to Bradley in 2012 and Chris in 2013. I’m more used to riding for somebody, but with the steps I’ve taken this year I’ve embraced having those seven or eight guys commit to me.
How would you describe yourself as a leader?
Probably a little bit more stressed than Chris! Obviously he is very laid back, and so was Brad. I’m not sure what the other guys would say but I don’t think I’m that hard to work for! I like to hit the front and race from there. At the end of the day, in any team it’s easier to work for a guy who is finishing it off and winning. My big goal going into the Giro is obviously to go for as high a GC as I can get.
The 2010 edition of the race, when you wore the pink jersey for three days, must hold fond memories for you?
To grow up watching the Giro and then to be in that massive break where for 200km I realised that I was going to be in the pink jersey as long as I kept it upright and not get dropped – it still gives me goose bumps to think about it. Other than the yellow jersey I think the pink jersey is probably the most beautiful one to wear in professional cycling.
Do you enjoy riding in Italy?
Italy is where I did my amateur days – I moved there from Australia in 2007. I like the way the Italians do it. When we stay in Italy for races, at the hotels they take such pride in their food and their coffee and that mixes so well with cycling. Even though I live in Monaco I find I often ride into Italy for the coffee, the piadini and the focaccias. I just love it – it’s so simple, but it works.
Are there any Italian riders, past or present, that you particularly enjoy watching?
You’d probably look back to Basso in the CSC days, with the class he used to ride with. Either that or Paolo Savoldelli – I used to love watching him, the way he used to go down the descents like a lead balloon. Someone who I also loved watching, although he’s not Italian, is Michael Wilson. He was the first Aussie winner of a stage of the Giro – a real trailblazer – and he had a massive influence on me. I saw Rapha did a film about him in my hometown of Launceston and it was almost emotional to watch because from where I’m from, almost nobody knows who Michael is and what he’s done. He’s such a humble champ.
Who do you think will be your main rivals this year?
I think it’s Contador’s race to lose. He’s the guy that has won the race before and I think he’s motivated. There are other guys like [Fabio] Aru or Rigoberto [Uran], my old team mate. He’s been second two years in a row so he knows what he’s doing. He’s such a cool champion too – I respect him and look forward to racing against him.
How will you unwind post-stage to take your mind off the racing?
I love it on the bus afterwards. That’s your mental break: you get on the bus, have your shower, eat and talk to your teammates. Somebody has always got a story, a near miss, or an argument they had with another rider – I love it. Then obviously at the dinner table it’s good to hear some of the war stories. I love listening to Bernie (Eisel), Brad (Wiggins) and Mick Rogers when he was on our team, talking about the days of suffering they’ve had at the grand tours.
If you win, how much celebrating will you do before thoughts turn to July?
I’ve got a good mate and his wife coming to stay with me and my fiancée for a few days so I’m sure there would be some pretty big celebrations. After the Giro I’m off to Manchester for ten days because that’s where my fiancée is from and I’m really looking forward to using that as my recovery period. Then it’s all eyes on the Tour!