Where to begin? Where to end? Today’s stage had just about everything a cycling fan could want from one of the last stages of a grand tour – and then some. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) won the stage and jumped to second in the GC, Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) came third on the stage to take the pink. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) dropped off the podium altogether and Steven Kruijswijk flipped into a snowbank yet miraculously only slipped to third. Those are the facts. Now here are the emotions.
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Ik heb het verkloot. Een stomme fout. Het deed zo’n pijn. [Google translate: I fucked up. A stupid mistake. It hurt so much.]
Today’s stage was expected to be a test for Steven Kruijswijk and test it was. The pink jersey had a hefty 3min advantage over second placed Esteban Chaves at the beginning of this stage so the JumboBee only had to keep in touch with the young Colombian and the third placed Alejandro Valverde to get that one step closer to being the first Dutch rider to win the Giro d’Italia. And at first, it looked as if that was going to work.
Chaves put some digs in on the penultimate climb – the gruelling Colle dell’Agnello – which chucked a lot of riders right out the back, including Valverde and all of Kruijswijk’s teammates. Nibali, Chaves and Kruijswijk went over the top of the climb together, lulling everyone into a false sense of ‘it’ll all kick off on the last climb’, until through the mist we see the pink jersey plow into one of the big snowbanks on the side of the road, flipping over his handlebars onto his back and his bike flying through the air. Up he jumped, but the bike took a bit more coaxing to get back into the race. He never saw Nibali or Chaves again until they were standing on the podium, being presented with the spoils of the day. But he put in one hell of a ride to minimise his losses and now the top three in the GC are separated by little over a minute.
I’ve won by rage today. It hasn’t been easy to handle everything that has happened over the past few days. I dedicate this victory to Rosario [a young pupil of his who died two weeks ago]. I’m very happy. It’s been a terribly hard stage.
So said Vincenzo Nibali after he won a humdinger of a stage. It was a virtuoso display from the Sicilian – a display of grit, determination, cunning and – yes – rage. He’d been upset about the kind of press he’d been getting this Giro due to his disappointing performance and lack of lustre in the mountains up until today. Was it a mysterious illness? Was it ennui? Was it all the most elaborate of bluffs? Whatever it was, it somehow righted itself today and he finds himself second in the GC tonight. His uncontrollable sobbing as he crossed the finish line showed just how much it meant to him – and just how heavy the weight of expectation had been.
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I think it’s the hardest day of the race for me. Also it’s the most important — I took the maglia rosa. I’m really, really happy today. The teamwork — unbelievable, all the guys attacking the Agnello.
The most smiley and light-hearted of riders is showing himself to be a hard-nosed road racer. Today, it was Chaves and his Orica teammates who drove the pace, put in the attacks on the penultimate climb and set up the high drama of the day. His efforts dropped Valverde – who at the start of the stage was breathing down his GC neck, only 23secs back – and it brought out Nibali, whose descending skills Chaves matched to help set him on his path to pink by the end of the stage.
Was it right to not take off the pace when the maglia rosa flipped into the snowbank on the descent of the Colle dell’Agnello or was it breaking the gentlemen’s agreement not to attack the GC leader if he suffers misfortune? The timeline was divided to a certain extent and there was a lot of indignation about this but this wasn’t a case of the peloton toodling along and then upping the ante once the pink jersey hit the deck. The race was clearly on, the riders were going full pelt down that descent – I’m not sure they would have been able to slacken the pace even if they’d wanted to – and he unfortunately totally misjudged the corner, so it wasn’t a mechanical, it was a mistake. As sad as it is to see a rider lose a grand tour because of a crash – and I don’t think anyone wants that – this wasn’t a case of Nibali and Chaves (and all the other riders that passed Kruijswijk along the way) taking unfair advantage. It was a matter of them continuing to ride balls to the wall because the kick-off had already happened.
I don’t like showing crash pictures so I won’t show the ones circulating of Ilnur Zakarin lying crumpled by the roadside, in obvious distress. For once, the Italian TV cameras didn’t hover over the site in ghoulish curiosity, but what we did see of it on our screens brought that all-too-familiar sick feeling. And it sounds strange to be relieved he only had a broken clavicle and scapula but that’s the report. All the best for a speedy recovery.
A tweeter said to me I should wait and do both today’s stage and tomorrow’s stage together because in his opinion they are a set piece. He has a point. With only 1.05 between first and third step on the podium at the moment (and a shark in the middle), tomorrow’s stage will be just as gruelling and probably just as unpredictable. This is what the stage looks like. Yep, that’ll decide it.
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 4:19:54
2 Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) +0:51
3 Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0:53
4 Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) +1:02
5 Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) +2:14
1 Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) +78:14:20
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +0:44
3 Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +1:05
4 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1.48
5 Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) +3:59
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE)
Point’s jersey: Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo)
KOM jersey: Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini)
Best young rider: Bob Jungels (Etixx-Quick Step)
For full review of the stage, go to Cycling News
Header image: Vincenzo Nibali drops Esteban Chaves ©Getty Images/Corbis/Tim de Waele