When Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) stepped up onto the podium on Sunday evening to celebrate his Giro d’ Italia victory, he probably felt relief. This was his first grand tour victory since the Tour de France in 2014. This was by not any means an easy win, overcoming a deficit of 4 minutes and 41 seconds along the way. It truly was a remarkable effort by Nibali and his teammates in stages 19 and 20 to pull off the comeback.
Vincenzo Nibali Wins Giro In Dramatic Final Week Of Racing
Heading into the final week Nibali was 2 minutes and 51 seconds down in the general classification, and sitting in third place. It was going to take a great week of racing in order to overcome such a deficit. He and his teammates had to be at their best starting on Tuesday’s stage.
Unfortunately for Nibali stage 16 proved to be a disaster. He lost even more time, and fell back to fourth place. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won the stage and moved ahead of Nibali. It was now a gap of 4 minutes and 41 seconds to leader Steven Kruijswijk (Lott0 NL -Jumbo). Despite the horrible day there was some good news for Nibali. The next two stages were less demanding and offered Astana a chance to stage a comeback on stages 19 and 20.
Stage 17 was a flat stage that featured an exciting finish. Roger Kluge (IAM Cycling) held off the sprinting peloton behind him to win. He attacked with 500 meters to go to steal the stage. There were no major changes in the general classification battle as the riders stayed out of trouble.
The next day featured a long day of riding with a 244 km stage. It was a day for the breakaway riders to go at it, as the peloton allowed them to gain a healthy gap. In the end the stage was won by Matteo Trentin (Ettix-Quick-Step). It was Ettix’s fourth stage win of the Giro, and Trentin’s first Giro stage win. There were no major shakeups in the general classification as all attacks were covered. It was Kruijswijk in the lead heading into the next two deciding stages. Behind him was Esteban Chaves (Orica-Greenedge), Valverde, and Nibali.
It was a Kruijswijk’s race to lose heading into stage 19. He had the job of making sure he covered every attack made by his competitors, and avoid giving away a significant amount of time if he was faced with trouble. Unfortunately for him he was met with disaster when he crashed heading into a turn on a descent. He hit the snow bank lining the side of the road, and crashed hard. For the other riders this was the break they were hoping for. Nibali and Chaves were now up the road with a chance to take a significant amount of time away from Kruijswijk.
With 10 km to go Nibali and Chaves were a little over two minutes ahead of the Maglia Rosa group. Nibali went for a hard attack as he tried to leave the three riders behind him, but they were able to cover it. With 6 km to go the virtual leader was now Chaves. Kruijswijk was struggling to make it up the climb as the effects of the hard fall appeared to be taking a toll on him. Up the road with 5 km to go Nibali made another attack and this time left Chaves behind. He completed his impressive performance by crossing the finish line with his hands raised in victory as he took the stage.
The rest of the riders came over the line in a state of exhaustion behind him. Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) crossed the line in second place with Chaves right behind him third. Kruijswijk came across the line later on in sheer disappointment. Chaves had a 44 second lead on Nibali heading into stage 20. It was now the Colombians race to lose.
For Nibali the next day of the Giro couldn’t have gone any better. The stage was one for the breakaway as Rein Taaramare (Katusha) turned in a fantastic ride to win the stage. However, just behind him was a fierce and nervous battle for the general classification riders. The first major attack came with 12 km to go. Nibali went and Chaves was able to follow for only a short time. After that it became a race for time. Both riders grimaced as they made their way up the climb.
Nibali continued to press on to the line and crossed in sixth place overall on the stage. Now he waited for Chaves. The wait wasn’t long as the Colombian came in 1 minute and 36 seconds behind the Italian rider. This meant that top of the leader board was now occupied by Nibali. It was an emotional next few moments for him as he received congratulations and hugs. The realization that he just won must have been an incredible feeling. From Tuesday to Saturday it had been an emotional roller-coaster, but he had overcome and now was the proud new owner of the Maglia Rosa.
The performance of his team on stage 20 shouldn’t be overlooked. It was a fantastic team effort from Astana to set up Nibali. Michele Scarponi and Tanel Kangert were instrumental parts in the final kilometers. The team had vowed to not give up earlier in the week after the stage 16 disaster, and they did exactly that. The work of his teammates was so crucial in the general classification race, and Astana gave everything they had for Nibali over the course of the week.
On Sunday the final stage proved to be bizarre one. For Nibali all he had to do was finish the stage. He did indeed finish, but the stage had three riders abandon. Chaves and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) also crashed in the final 30 km which meant that general classification times were neturalized. This allowed Nibali to cruise into the finish line. The sprint was won by Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) after Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) was ruled to have had an irregular sprint. Despite the ruling Nizzolo still had enough points to win the red points jersey.
The celebration for Astana and Nibali was on after the race. He was joined by Chaves (2nd) and Valverde (3rd) on the podium, as he donned the Maglia Rosa for the final time in this 99th edition of the Giro d’ Italia. It was a race that many didn’t think he could have won heading into this final week. However, the fight left in him and his team proved to be enough to win this edition of the Giro.