PIANCAVALLO, Italy (VN) — Sicilian Vincenzo Nibali struggles to understand his tall Dutch rival. Though the two seemed to bury the hatchet, the Giro’s defending champion sniped at Tom Dumoulin following Friday’s stage, saying that even the late Italian star Marco Pantani would not have said what Dumoulin did.
Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Dumoulin (Sunweb) shook hands the morning of stage 19 and made up for their war of words. However, it shows that deep into the Giro’s third and final week, both muscles and minds are fraying.
“I’ve known big champions in the past. I’ve seen their jesters,” Nibali said at Friday’s Piancavallo summit finish, where Dumoulin lost his overall lead. “Not even our great and famous Marco Pantani would have been seen so brazen to act as Dumoulin did. He excused himself with me today, and also with the others, and we restarted from the top.”
Pantani won the Giro d’Italia/Tour de France double in 1998, but his career was marred by doping, and he died of a cocaine overdose in 2004.
Dumoulin is trying to win his first grand tour. He faded from his pink jersey lead Friday. He finished the stage 1:09 behind top rival Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and slid to second at 38 seconds. One mountain stage remains and a time trial, which suits Dumoulin, on Sunday in Milan.
Stage 18 Thursday proved the war is raging on and off the road. Dumoulin did not like how Quintana and Nibali seemed to be joining forces to ride against him, unconcerned with other rivals. They did not care how Dumoulin sat up and refused to work when Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) rode clear.
“I hope that Nibali and Quintana will lose their podium spots because of only focusing on me,” Dumoulin said. “If they only focus on me it would be nice if they lose podium spot in Milan.”
Nibali fired back saying, “I don’t care what Tom said, I think he is being cocky. I’d never talk like that. He’s got to keep his feet on the ground, does he know what karma is?”
The words were music to journalists’ ears and fueled debate on social media. The issue escalated to such a point that Dumoulin offered an apology to Nibali and Quintana the next morning. Dumoulin explained, “I said some words at the finish with a lot of emotion and it wasn’t maybe the smartest or nicest thing to say.”
Nibali explained that he considered the apology a “noble” move, but the battles continued Friday. Once Dumoulin was in a bad spot in the back of the group only 56 kilometers into today’s stage, Quintana’s teammate José Joaquín Rojas reportedly radioed up to his leader to attack.
Quintana’s Movistar and Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida teams fought to maintain a gap over the next 80 kilometers. It may have seemed pointless, but the message was sent.
“When we are racing,” continued Nibali, “it’s the race and anything can happen.”
Dumoulin, perhaps due to the early efforts, lost contact on the summit finish climb and slipped out of the leader’s pink jersey. Could it have been the karma that Nibali mentioned?
“It seems to be!” Dumoulin said. “If this is the karma then it’s good, if this was my bad day and I have good legs tomorrow then I’m happy.
“I had really bad legs today and if I limited my losses today to this then it isn’t so bad after all.”