Nibali braces for ‘ter­ri­ble’ third week

New Straits Times - - Sport -

AL­GHERO: De­fend­ing cham­pion Vin­cenzo Nibali said top ri­vals and a “ter­ri­ble” third week of the Giro d’Italia will fully test him as he tar­gets a third pink jer­sey in the 100th edi­tion of the race.

Less than two weeks af­ter the tragic death of for­mer As­tana team­mate Michele Scar­poni, there is a nascent ex­pec­ta­tion on Nibali to hon­our the 37-year-old’s mem­ory by con­quer­ing his third Giro ti­tle.

But de­spite tri­umph­ing twice (2013, 2016), ei­ther side of a maiden Tour de France tri­umph in 2015, Colom­bian Nairo Quin­tana — not Nibali — is the favourite for a par­tic­u­larly gru­elling 100th edi­tion of the race, first held in 1909.

As a re­sult, 32-year-old Bahrain team leader Nibali will opt for a “cau­tious ap­proach” and try to keep his pow­der dry for a “ter­ri­ble” third week that in­cludes sev­eral pun­ish­ing climbs at high alti­tude.

“We’ve put in the work as a team to be here in the best con­di­tion pos­si­ble. I have a lot of re­spect for my ad­ver­saries,” Nibali said on Wed­nes­day, two days be­fore the first of three stages in Sardinia takes the pelo­ton over 206km from Al­ghero to Ol­bia.

“It’ll be a long chal­lenge with a lot of un­knowns. (Event di­rec­tor) Mauro Vegni has made the route even more dif­fi­cult than in pre­vi­ous years.

“It’s not easy to be on the high­est (podium) step so if it’s not pos­si­ble to win the Giro again, I’ll fight for sec­ond or third place to hon­our the race.

“But I pre­fer to go cau­tiously, be­cause the third week is ter­ri­ble.”

On a 3,609km-long route that has some­thing for ev­ery­one, more than a few ri­vals will be look­ing to throw a span­ner into the works, and Quin­tana is the man on ev­ery­one’s lips.

“Nairo Quin­tana is the favourite,” said Tom Du­moulin (Team Gi­ant), one of two Dutch con­tenders along with Steven Krui­jswijk (Lot­toNL).

“In the past years and last month, he’s been show­ing that even at 90 per cent of his ca­pac­i­ties, he can win.”

But Quin­tana, the 2014 Giro cham­pion and de­fend­ing Tour of Spain cham­pion, isn’t con­tent just to go for vic­tory in Italy.

He hopes it would spur him on to a rarely-achieved Giro-Tour de France dou­ble, say­ing last week: “We’ve never tried this be­fore but we think we’re on the right track, with a train­ing pro­gramme adapted to ar­riv­ing at both in form.”

A two-time Tour de France run­ner-up, to Chris Froome in 2013 then Nibali in 2015, Quin­tana said he has enough Grand Tour ex­pe­ri­ence to em­u­late now de­ceased Ital­ian great Marco Pan­tani, the last rider to achieve the feat in 1998.

“I feel this year I’ve got a little bit more ma­tu­rity and re­sis­tance in the body. That’s why I think it’s the time to do it, when you’re in a good phys­i­cal con­di­tion.”

As well as Pan­tani, the race will pay homage to fel­low Ital­ian cy­cling greats Gino Bar­tali, Fausto Coppi and Felice Gi­mondi.

The first week cli­maxes with a 14-kilo­me­tre climb to Block­haus, at 1,674 me­tres, on stage nine, while the first of two in­di­vid­ual time tri­als comes af­ter the sec­ond rest day, held over 39.2 km in the Sa­grantino wine-grow­ing re­gion.

Stage 11’s ride from Florence to Bagno di Ro­magna will pass through the birth­place of three­time cham­pion Bar­tali and two days later, five-time win­ner Coppi will be hon­oured when stage 13 ends in Tor­tona, where he died in 1960.

Af­ter a rest day in Berg­amo, the birth­place of three-time race win­ner Gi­mondi, the pelo­ton will look ahead to the de­ci­sive fi­nal week with trep­i­da­tion.

De­spite only two sum­mit fin­ishes in five days of climb­ing, the pink jer­sey con­tenders are in for a pun­ish­ing fi­nal week that in­cludes climb­ing over leg­endary passes like the Mor­tirolo and Stelvio.

Be­fore then, Pan­tani will be re­mem­bered on stage 14 from Castel­la­nia to Oropa, where he com­pleted an as­ton­ish­ing climb to vic­tory in 1999 be­fore be­ing thrown out the race for sus­pected dop­ing a day be­fore the finale.

The race ends in Mi­lan on May 28, fol­low­ing the sec­ond time trial, from Monza rac­ing track to Mi­lan. AFP

Vin­cenzo Nibali is go­ing for a cau­tious ap­proach for the Giro d’Italia.

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