FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) appears more and more capable of winning his national tour, the Giro d’Italia. On Sunday’s rain-lashed ninth leg, he and his team — with an assist from a couple of other interested parties — put pre-race favorite Bradley Wiggins (Sky) into a spot of bother.
“We were pulling on the Vallombrosa descent. … Our team car was at the very back of the line, so we didn’t know what was going on with Wiggins, who was at the back of the group,” Nibali said at the post-race press conference. “I realized it only when BMC Racing and Vini Fantini started to came to the front and began ramping up the pace.”
Once Astana took note, Wiggins found himself down nearly a minute to Nibali and the other GC contenders. But his Sky mates led a mad chase, and he rejoined the shreds of the peloton before the finish. He remains fourth overall at 1:16.
“The Giro is long, we all know that, and any of us can suffer a bad day,” Nibali said. “Wiggins suffered in the stage to Pescara, but yesterday he went strongly and almost won the stage. So he’s still there. Ryder Hesjedal, however, though, looks to be suffering.”
He left the chapel, stepped into the team car and went to meet his team. They transferred to Cordenons in Italy’s northeast for Monday’s rest day via helicopter, while most other teams, including Sky, were to make the four-hour journey by car.
Earlier in the day, team manager Giuseppe Martinelli said that he was proud to have the maglia rosa in-house but remained aware of the work ahead.
“We took the jersey, but we know the race is still long,” he said, leaning against the bus where fans circled three deep. “It’s never too early to take the jersey, but we’re realistic.”
After the rest day, he said, the race only becomes harder with the high-mountain passes that form a natural border in Italy’s north.
The fact that Wiggins is still in the game, he said, however, is a good thing for Astana.
“We are happy Wiggins is still okay, he’s more of an ally for us. If he was further back, I’d be more worried, to tell you the truth,” Martinelli said. “The team might start to play with Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Urán. Instead, Wiggins is still the leader and there’s more tranquility.
“We have the same goals; we want to make the same race. If Wiggins was at four minutes, the race tactics would change.”
On Monday’s rest day, Martinelli and Nibali will study footage of the Altopiano del Montasio and recon the final pitches.
For the first time the 10.4km Friulano climb will make an appearance in the Giro. It rises above Sella Nevea, which sits at 1143 meters, and continues until 1502 meters, featuring a section of 20 percent. Tuesday’s ride to Serra San Bruno will feel like an aperitivo in comparison.
Wiggins already inspected it after the Giro del Trentino, which may give him an advantage — and a chance to challenge Nibali’s narrow lead.