Giro d'Italia
With six days remaining in the 96th Giro d'Italia,...

Appearing nearly unbeatable, Nibali eyes more pink pillows at the Giro d’Italia

"The Shark" is ready to strike again when the road tilts up in northern Italy

VALLOIRE, France (VN) — With six days remaining in the 96th Giro d’Italia, overall leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is poised for his second grand tour win and said on Monday that he would go on the attack in the Dolomites.

“And here is your pink jersey, Vincenzo Nibali,” began the Astana press conference on Monday’s rest day in the French Alps. The message could be the same when the Giro wraps up in Brescia in six days, such is the Italian’s lead.

After 15 stages and 2449 kilometers, Nibali leads Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) by 1:24 and has shown no sign of letting up.

“I’m not worried about this or that climb, the whole week is going to be hard,” Nibali said. “Let’s not talk about winning just yet; I’ve got to finish the race.”

Nibali met the press on the second floor of the Pulka hotel in Valloire, France, where Sunday’s stage passed on the way up the Col du Galibier. He wore his Astana team’s turquoise-colored jump suit, which had no pink accents or hints that he was the race leader in the Italian grand tour.

The Astana bus outside, however, gave it away. Eight stuffed pink jersey pillows were in the window, one from the race organizer for each day Nibali has led the corsa rosa.

A matter of time

Nibali took time on Evans in the team time trial (:23), the Saltara ITT (:18), and the stage to Jafferau on Saturday (:33). Evans has gained bonus seconds to trim that advantage, but not as often as Nibali, who has 12 more bonus seconds after two weeks of racing.

With his time trial performances, his climbing exploits in the Alps over the weekend, and his solid riding on wet, technical intermediate stages, Nibali has proven the more complete rider thus far. He leaves many wondering how he can lose the race.

Some have suggested that Evans, the 2011 Tour de France champion and 13-year professional, has more experience. However, even Evans has pointed out that Nibali is no debutant, having already won the Vuelta a España in 2010 and placed third in the Tour de France last year. The Aussie can hope that Nibali will begin to suffer in the final week and pay for the focus and dedication the Giro has taken. Evans, on the other hand, only decided in late March to race the Giro.

The road to Breschia

The mountains above Italy’s Lake Como and Lake Garda hold some answers. The corsa rosa heads east out of France and to Ivrea on Tuesday, sprints into Vicenza Wednesday, and hits the high mountains again starting Thursday. Those three mountain stages hold the key to Nibali’s second grand tour win. Thursday’s climbing time trial to Polsa will give Nibali a third opportunity to best Evans against the clock — or herald a fierce week-ending battle.

“Uphill time trials are always difficult to manage, but I’d be more worried if it was a flat time trial,” said Nibali. “Evans goes much stronger in flat ones than I do.”

Nibali said he may attack again in the mountains when the race hits Val Martello on Friday. He will not ride into Breschia on the defensive.

“In this and the Tre Cime di Lavaredo [on Sunday], you have to stay alert and defend yourself,” he said. “However, if there’s a chance, I’ll even try to attack and gain more time on my rivals.”

The Giro’s final decisive showdown comes on Saturday with the five-climb epic to Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Riders will face the Cat. 1 ascents of the Passo Giau and the Tre Cime di Lavaredo finish climb in a fitting finale to a brutal Giro.

“I raced there in 2007, the last time the Giro visited,” said Nibali. “The final three kilometers are very hard on their own, but you also have to consider before we race Costalunga, San Pellegrino, and Giau. You’ll really feel the pain in your legs.”

Nibali said that, despite losing riders to crashes and illness, his team is ready for the mountains. Paolo Tiralongo has suffered from the flu for half the race. Fabio Aru also had the flu, but is recovering, which he showed on the Galibier. Important rouleur Alessandro Vanotti crashed and abandoned with a fractured collarbone. Nibali must look to the rest and the fit, including mountain domestiques Valerio Agnoli and Tanel Kangert, and his own staying power to secure a final stuffed pink jersey in Brescia on Sunday.