Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) found himself in a different situation racing towards his fourth Grand Tour win. Instead of defending, the Sicilian had to attack for his Giro d'Italia victory in the French/Italian Alps.
Nibali dropped Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) by 1-36 minutes to take over the race lead after stage 20 in Sant'Anna di Vinadio, Italy. With only a flat stage to Turin tomorrow, he is set to win the 99th Giro d'Italia.
"In the past, I always had to defend the lead in the last stages, but here it was different, I had to attack in the last stages," Nibali said to a crowded press room on top of the sun-drenched climb.
"In 2013 when I won the overall, I had the lead from the start. This Giro was harder to manage. Everyone watched me from the beginning of the race. I tried to ride differently, and it wasn't easy for me when I lost time. Then it switched for me, I thought, 'I don't care where I finish, I'm going to attack.'"
The race swung in Nibali's favour on stage 19 when the Giro d'Italia entered into France over the Colle dell'Agnello. He attacked with Chaves and then race leader Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo). Kruijswijk lost control on the descent and crashed into a snow bank.
Chaves took the leader's pink jersey from Kruijswijk, but Nibali placed himself ready for the race's final act.
It's not all about racing in the WorldTour peloton
The 20th stage covered the Col de la Bonette and the Colle della Lombarda before the final small 2.35-kilometre kick to the finish line.
Nibali surged at 15 kilometres remaining to leave only Chaves and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and moments later, he went free toward the top and border entering back into Italy.
The turn of events followed a horrible run through Italy's eastern Alps. Nibali lost 43 seconds, 2-10 and 1-47 in three consecutive stages. Kruijswijk’s hefty three-minute lead over Chaves left many insiders to believe that Nibali had little chance of resurrecting his 2016 Giro.
"That day in the mountain time trial was terrible, but inside, I knew that the last week would suit me,” Nibali said.
“Also, I had many friends in the group and they told me that in the last week, anything can happen. They told me not to get demoralised. In the end, in the last stages, it all went in my favour."
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1