The last time Vincenzo Nibali rode the Giro d'Italia for Astana, in 2016, the world was very different. The UK was yet to have its Brexit referendum, the idea of President Donald Trump was ridiculous, and the concept of having a novel coronavirus pandemic was a mystery but all but the nerdiest epidemiologists.
Six years on, and the world might have changed, but Nibali is back at the Kazakh team where he had his greatest successes, and is still racing hard at his home Grand Tour.
The Italian won the 2016 Giro, after an astonishing comeback saw him pip Esteban Chaves and Steven Kruijswijk at the very end. In 2022, it looks unlikely that he will pull on his third maglia rosa on Sunday, but he is certainly still trying, still lighting the race up, doing his shark things.
On stage 16, his Astana-Qazaqstan team took up position at the front of the peloton on the Mortirolo, setting the pace, clearly trying to launch Nibali at the opportune moment. This is exactly what happened, with the 37-year-old clipping off the front on the descent in an attempt to force a split.
Sadly for him, the attack did not last, and there was no chance of the Italian heading up the road for the stage win, but there was one casualty of his move. Domenico Pozzovio (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) crashed under the pressure of chasing on, and shipped time over the rest of the stage, allowing Nibali to leapfrog him into fifth place.
He might have ended up losing time to the leading GC riders, but he is now comfortably in the top ten in his final Giro, which is achievement enough.
“Well, it was a tough challenge for everyone," he said post-stage. "We tried to do a strong and active race and the guys were working really well, so I want to thank my teammates for that. Then, it was Bahrain who went in front to set the pace and it was a fast one.
"The last climb… I did all I could, but in the final it was just too much for me, so I tried to continue on my own rhythm until the end. I think we did maximum today and let’s see how the next stages will turn out."
Nibali's attack showed his intent for the last week, and it is certainly not beyond him to target a stage win on the three remaining mountain stages. The shark is not done yet.
Astana came into this race looking to target the maglia rosa with Miguel Angel López, who was forced out of the race on stage four with a hip injury. To have a four-time Grand Tour winner as your backup option is not bad, and Nibali has proved that he can roll back the years over the two and a half weeks so far.
In 2016, his last Giro win, his last Grand Tour win, Nibali was 4-43 behind then race leader Kruijswijk after stage 16. In 2022, he is just 3-40. It seems fantastic, but he couldn't, could he? A shark tale might be written after this week.
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