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Nibali homecoming ruined by ‘unfortunate’ Moreno expulsion

MESSINA, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali’s hometown of Messina welcomed its star during the Giro d’Italia, but the overnight expulsion of his Bahrain-Merida teammate Javier Moreno soured celebrations.

Nibali rode into the Sicilian port town, across the straight from the toe of Italy’s boot, to finish stage 5. The stage suited sprinters, but fans cheered Nibali’s arrival in 34th place all the same.

Their hero won the 2013 and last year’s Giro, the 2014 Tour de France, and the 2010 Vuelta a España. Winning this year’s edition, the 100th, now becomes harder after the race jury sent Spanish teammate Moreno home for pushing Sky’s Diego Rosa off the road in Tuesday’s stage.

“These are things that unfortunately happen in races, and unfortunately this happened with Moreno,” Nibali told VeloNews. “If you see the images though, there was Moreno’s action, but before that Rosa acted too.”

Messina’s hero took time to speak between engagements. After the stage, he spent 20 minutes with RAI television in a special show dedicated to him. He watched with a smile as a journalist visited his parents at their photocopy shop and interviewed them.

The Corsa Rosa caravan crosses over the Strait of Messina Wednesday night and restarts on the mainland Thursday. Nibali said, “It’ll really kick off with Blockhaus. My brother’s girlfriend lives near the base, and we went and stayed there and studied the climb.”

Without the 32-year-old Spaniard, who has ridden eight grand tours, Nibali may find the days ahead slightly more difficult.

“We have one rider less, which means less horsepower,” Bahrain-Merida general manager Brent Copeland said. “But tactics and roles stay the same.

“It’s an unfortunate situation that no one likes to see in cycling, but we have to move forward in the best way possible.”

Copeland talked to Moreno and saw him off to the airport. He left the Giro on a 10:30 flight, unable to guide Nibali through Messina’s streets and through the weeks ahead.

“We move forward with it. We don’t expect that behavior in the team; we made that clear to [Moreno],” Copeland said. “[Nibali] knows it happens in cycling, some captains lose riders to crashes, unfortunately. It’s not a nice way to lose a teammate. We have to move forward with the circumstances.”

Some, like Nibali, suggest that Rosa threw a punch first and should be disqualified as well. The television footage remains unclear, however.

“What punch?” Rosa said. “There was only bumping, contact, between us. The jury made the right decision.”

Nibali will make a big step toward a third Giro d’Italia title with the Blockhaus stage Sunday. The giant leaps forward will come in the third week on the Giro’s magical, swooping Alpine roads.

American Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Drapac) will vie for stage wins on those roads. He knows how teammates pave the way to success.

“You want to have a full team always, especially when you have someone who can win the race overall,” Dombrowski said. “That’s one less guy to do the job for Nibali and they are going to be stretched more. They have a strong team still, sure, but it’s not ideal.”