After breaking his wrist in training in mid-April, Vincenzo Nibali’s biggest success of the spring was simply recovering quickly enough to start the Giro d’Italia. Ten stages in, he could hardly have expected much more than his current status of 16th overall, 2:13 behind maglia rosa Egan Bernal (Ineos).
At Sestola on stage 4, San Giacomo on stage 6 and Campo Felice on stage 9, Nibali was unable to track the accelerations of men like Bernal and his Trek-Segafredo teammate Giulio Ciccone, but he has still limited his losses more consistently than riders who had far less troubled approaches to this Giro.
“I knew this Giro was always going to be difficult for me,” Nibali admitted in an appearance on RAI’s Processo alla Tappa programme in Foligno on Monday evening.
“I’ve worked hard but I lost ten days of training. That cost me a lot and I lost form. But my base is still there. When there are big accelerations like the one on Sunday, it’s logical that Giulio is up there and I’m not, but he’s in great shape and he can respond to the attacks.”
Ciccone began the Giro d’Italia with doubts of his own, after a knee injury hampered his build-up, and in the opening days of the race, he sought to anticipate the attacks of the favourites rather than respond to them.
A strong showing on the haul to San Giacomo last week prompted a change in tack. At Campo Felice, Ciccone bided his time until Egan Bernal and the rest moved, and he was rewarded with second on the stage. He reaches the first rest day in 4th overall, 37 seconds behind Bernal.
Even before that steep stretch of gravel road in the finale of stage 9, Nibali had appeared to anoint his fellow countryman as Trek-Segafredo’s leader for the general classification, and he advised the Abruzzo native to cut his cloth accordingly from here on in.
“Giulio wanted to understand his form but I’ve told him that he has to ride more carefully and save himself for the final week,” Nibali said. “We’ve told him to race with his head, because he can do well. It’s right we protect him in these aggressive, dangerous finishes. I know how to look after myself and I also know how to look after other people. We’re trying to ride as a united team. On Sunday and in the last few days, I’ve tried to keep Giulio up there and out of trouble. It helps him and it helps me.”
Over his nine previous Giro appearances, Nibali has established himself as the man for the long road, outlasting his rivals in the rarefied atmosphere of the race’s inevitably extreme final week. That reputation was perhaps dented when he was unable to conjure up a late revival in last Autumn’s race, slipping definitively out of contention and into 7th place as a younger generation took flight on the Stelvio, but Nibali’s powers of endurance remain a calling card. He retains hope that his Giro can take on another complexion as the race draws on.
“It was a first week full of doubts, as I needed to understand how I felt after my fracture, if I could pedal okay and steer my bike in the peloton. I’ve made it to this point and things are slowly improving,” said Nibali, who was unconvinced as to the long-term importance of the bonus seconds contested by Bernal and Remco Evenepoel on the road to Foligno on Monday.
“The seconds could count for something, but in the third week they usually count for very little. The race could turn upside down in the last week and then be decided in the final time trial.”