Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) placed an icy cherry atop his sweet lead in the Giro d’Italia on Saturday, soloing to victory in the snow atop Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
The maglia rosa shot out of the GC group in the final kilometers of the 210km stage to finish 17 seconds ahead of Fabio Duarte (Colombia). Rigoberto Uran (Sky) finished third, two seconds later, pushing a struggling Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) out of the runner-up spot on GC.
Nibali said he wanted to make a statement, particularly after Danilo Di Luca’s positive doping control, “to make everyone understand what cycling really is.”
“Tomorrow should finish in a bunch sprint, so I’m feeling immense joy. It was an epic win in the snow,” he said.
And, after enduring and triumphing in the latest in a series of weather-battered stages, the race leader added, “Tomorrow in Brescia, I hope there will be sun.”
For his part, Uran said “Nibali was at another level, so to be able to move up to second makes me very content.”
“It was only cold in the last few kilometers, yet we are thankful we didn’t have to ride the full stage today,” he said. “I am very happy with how this Giro went. It gives me confidence and motivation for the future.”
The 210km stage from Silandro to Tre Cime di Lavaredo was redesigned to remove three major climbs rendered too hazardous by wintry weather. With only two real climbs before the final ascent, the break du jour formed early, and Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol), Pavel Brutt (Katusha), Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack-Leopard) and Giairo Ermeti (Androni Giocattoli) went on to build a lead of more than eight minutes.
With less than 30km remaining the gap was down to 2:53. Cannondale was driving the chase.
Ermeti was first to lose the wheel; next, Popo’ popped, then Hansen, and Brutt went clear. With 20km to go he was on his own, climbing the Tre Croci in a driving rain.
Behind, Carlos Alberto Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) — seventh overall at 6:47 and second in the best young rider competition behind Saxo-Tinkoff’s Rafal Majka — was left chasing after a mechanical and bike change as Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) made a jump from the bunch.
Betancur got back on as Weening closed to within 90 seconds of Brutt. Going over the top mountains leader Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox), Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Eros Capecchi (Movistar) caught him, and the lead chase grew as Brutt dwindled on the final climb, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo — 7.1km of up, averaging 8.6 percent, with slow-slashed ramps as steep as 18 percent near the finish.
The chase pulled Brutt in with 8.5km to go, and Capecchi pressed on, but Weening and Brambilla stuck to him.
The Movistar rider pushed the pace again on a steep section and once again moved clear of the others.
Then, with just over 3km to go, Nibali shot out of the GC group, with Tanel Kangert for company, albeit only briefly. The race leader accelerated again and again, shedding Evans, Uran, Betancur and his other rivals for the overall.
“We were confident that Nibali would be strong today,” said Kangert. “He’s shown this entire Giro he is the strongest.”
Soon Nibali passed Capecchi and was all alone in front, grinding through a running gantlet of wildly cheering spectators, at least one of whom he had to shove away.
“I had to push away a few supporters, I thought they would make me crash,” said Nibali. “I knew the final couple of kilometers were hard, but I forgot how hard. After I started to see the distance markers with 1,800 meters to go, I thought they would never end.”
Behind, Evans was fighting to hold onto second overall as Uran rode away from him. But he was losing ground. As the Aussie dragged himself across the line in 14th spot, some 90 seconds down, he knew it was gone — and when the overall was tallied, Uran was second to Nibali, 4:43 down, with Evans third at 5:52.
“I had a technical problem at two kilometers to go all the way to the finish and that cost me second place,” Evans said.
It was a shame, said assistant director Fabio Baldato, because Evans had been riding well up to that point.
“All day, Cadel had good legs,” Baldato said. “For sure, second was better than third. But we are still on the podium and tomorrow we need to control to make the race safe and then the goal is reached.”
Kangert was ebullient at the finish.
“We were very motivated for this last weekend to bring home the pink jersey,” he said. “We’ve all been working since November for this. It brings extreme satisfaction for everyone on the team.”
And Betacur, who finished fourth on the day despite his untimely mechanical, was delighted to cement his hold on the white jersey.
“I wanted the white jersey,” he said. “It was my goal at the start.
“I had a puncture, then had to change bikes again, but my teammates did a good job to help me get back to the bunch. I was hoping to win the stage but Nibali is in a class by himself. I am very happy with my performance in this Giro — to win the young jersey gives me great motivation for the future.”
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from Italy.