Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) never liked the Marmolada, so maybe it was fitting that it was the last mountain he ever climbed in the Giro d’Italia. There would be no hesitation in coming back and doing it again next year.
“After the effort I put in today, definitely not,” smiled Nibali in the mixed zone after nearly sealing fourth place overall in his last Giro.
“Right now, the main emotion is fatigue. The Marmolada has never been my favorite climb. I prefer to do a Zoncolan than the Marmolada, it’s a climb with such steep slopes, where you can’t breathe properly… I just tried to focus on maintaining my tempo and trying not to lose too much time to my rivals on the very top.
Nibali was left behind as the slope began to bite into Passo Fedaia, and he knew not to force the exit. While Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) went to places he could not reach by parting ways with Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) from pink magliaNibali was two minutes from the climb, calmly limiting his losses to keep his place in the standings.
Heading into Sunday’s final time trial in Verona, Nibali remains fourth overall, now at 7:57 on Hindley, but with a buffer of over a minute on Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious). Although Nibali did not reach the podium, he should be celebrated in the Arena on Sunday afternoon for his contribution to racing history. The overall victories of 2013 and 2016 only tell part of the story; Nibali defined an era at the Giro.
“The Giro was kind of my home because I was on the podium a lot, although I didn’t make it this year,” Nibali said. “I gave a lot of emotions, but the race also gave me a lot of emotions.”
Nibali started this Giro with a free role in an Astana Qazaqstan team led by Miguel Ángel López and his overall hopes seemed to have ended when he conceded more than two minutes on Mount Etna in Stage 4. day later, when Nibali used the Giro’s visit to Messina to announce his retirement at the end of the season, a stage victory seemed to be the height of his ambition.
By the end of week two, however, Nibali was unlikely to be back in search of a podium finish after delivering his best streak of climbing performances in at least three years. After largely limiting his losses on the Blockhaus on Stage 9, Nibali was among the aggressors on the breathless outing around Turin on Stage 14.
Nibali had clear intentions of signing off the Giro with a stage victory, but he found himself cornered by his high position in the general classification, a victim of his own surprising form. There was never any prospect of infiltrating an early break, and there was only a remote possibility of escaping Hindley, Carapaz et al.
“It’s definitely a great result, but maybe the ambition was something more,” Nibali said. “I was hoping to try to win a stage, because raising your arms in the air is always a unique emotion. I went near Turin. It was my best riding day, I was up there with Hindley and Carapaz, and they rightfully marked me, but they were riding a lot better than me too.
A Giro at this level seemed fanciful before the start of the race. When Nibali returned to Astana this season, he had toyed with the idea of riding all five landmarks, but illness ruined his spring campaign. His former mentor Giuseppe Martinelli did what he could to boost morale.
“When I had physical problems in the spring, I wanted to throw everything in the air and stop, but then Martino, who knows me better than anyone, said to me: ‘Get on your bike and do what you want'”, says Nibali. “It gave me the energy to start over, and now I’m here. I can be satisfied with this Giro.