Vincenzo Nibali defended the decision of the riders not to wait for maglia rosa Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) when he stopped for a natural break before the final ascent of the Stelvio on stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia, arguing he never expects riders to wait for him if he ever stops during a race.
The 33-year-old defending Giro champion won the queen stage of this year’s race in Bormio, which included the iconic Mortirolo and Stelvio passes.
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Nibali, of Bahrain-Merida, attacked with four kilometres to go on the last climb, before using his descending prowess to catch Mikel Landa (Team Sky) ahead up the road and beat him in a sprint for the line. The win was Nibali’s seventh stage win at the Giro so far in his career.
However, the day was overshadowed by controversy over whether the other GC favourites should have slowed and waited for race leader Dumoulin, who was forced to stop on the side of the road to go to the toilet as the final climb up Umbrail Pass began.
The Dutchman held on to the pink jersey just at the finish line, but lost 2-18 of his 2-41 advantage to Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in second place.
“I’m very straightforward. I never expect anybody to wait for me when I have stopped [in a race]. Many times, I’ve fallen or punctured and just set off again,” Nibali told press in Bormio after the stage when asked whether the riders should have stopped for Dumoulin.
“I don’t know what to say. This is my opinion, even if many people might attack me for saying this.
“If we look at the history of cycling, go back through the record books, I think you’ll find that some very similar things have happened.”
Dumoulin’s Sunweb team tweeted that he was suffering from stomach problems and had to stop, yet Nibali stressed at the time during the race the other riders were unclear what had happened.
At the time, a breakaway remained up the road containing riders such as Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), which Nibali said still posed a threat.
“Just before swinging left onto the Stelvio for the second time, the news came through that the maglia rosa had stopped. It wasn’t clear what had happened.
“The pace was high, Orica and Trek were pulling, but once we started the climb there was a moment when we stopped,” Nibali said.
“But the break’s lead was growing. A few riders started attacking again. The race was on. It was the finale of the stage and it was difficult to say if we should stop or not.
“It wasn’t a crash but a problem that was maybe linked to bad feeding on the descent or not being properly covered up on his way down. I can’t say.”
Nibali attacked twice on the final climb; the first move dropped the likes of Adam Yates (Orica-Scott), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors), before he went again with four kilometres to go to the summit, with only Quintana able to follow him.
“Nairo followed me and we got a gap. There were 4-5km to the summit from there, but there was this headwind, which forced us to form a sort of echelon sometimes on the climb. It wasn’t easy,” Nibali explained.
“I knew this side of the Stelvio and Joaquim Rodriguez [former team-mate who was in the team car] told me about it. He said the hardest part was near the top and I made the last attack there.”
Before the race began Nibali said his goal was to at least get on the podium in Milan, however, he stressed there is still much racing to do; the final week still features four days in the mountains before the 30 kilometre time trial on Sunday.
“The real podium is the one in Milan, so you need to fight to the finish. It’s not straightforward. This week is very hard and very difficult. There will be the terrain for riders to attack, above all Nairo Quintana. He’ll want to put time into Tom Dumoulin.”