A favorite to take the stage 15 victory when he...

Valverde rebounds, Nibali retreats

The Giro's 15th stage serves up a reversal of fortunes for Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali

BESSASANO, Italy (VN) — Within 24 hours, the Giro d’Italia fortunes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) experienced a kind of cycling osmosis.

A day after blowing up the Giro with a searing attack, it was Nibali who blew up on the 10.8km climbing time trial up Alpe di Suisi. In contrast, Valverde, who faded Saturday in the elevation of the Dolomites, rode with renewed energy to finish third in Sunday’s stage 15 and revive his podium hopes.

Mobbed by journalists after the stage, Nibali could only shrug his slender shoulders, and repeat the refrain that the Giro is far from over.

“Today, I paid. Yesterday, it was Valverde, and maybe the day after the rest day, Kruijswijk could pay,” Nibali said. “This is not how I hoped to race, but one can only accept the results as they are.”

The 2013 Giro champ could never find his rhythm, and add a ill-timed mechanical (his chain fell off and derailleur broke), and any momentum he had from Saturday was quickly let out of the bag. Instead, the 10.8km climbing time trial to Europe’s largest alpine meadow in the heart of the Dolomites saw LottoNL – Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk consolidate his grip on the pink jersey he gained a day before, now 2:12 ahead of Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge).

Just 48 hours ago, everyone rated Nibali and Valverde as the main favorites. Going into Monday’s third and final rest day, it’s Kruijswijk and Chaves, who bumped Nibali from second to third, who carry momentum into the final week.

“At the end of the day, we’re all humans, and this is sport. We can have good days, bad days, and irregular days,” Valverde said. “Yesterday, I wasn’t at my best, but today I was better. I am a fighter, and we’ll keep fighting. But the things the way things are now, Kruijswijk looks like he’s the strongest here.”

Monday’s rest day comes at a good time for an ever-weary peloton. Cannondale’s Rigoberto Urán has been suffering from bronchitis, and he slid out of the top-10 to 12th at 8:19 back following a rough ride Sunday. Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick-Step) bounded back into the top-10, now eighth at 7:14 back, to consolidate his grip on the young rider’s classification.

If there’s one thing that Nibali and Valverde share is that they’re both experienced veterans, backed with strong teams, and they know how to race deep into the third week of a grand tour. That’s something that Kruijswijk and Chaves — neither of whom have finished on a grand tour podium — are still learning.

“It’s not over,” Nibali insisted. “Yes, there’s a big gap, but we will see what happens.”

Valverde, too, vowed to keep plugging away.

“Yesterday was hard, and I am not accustomed to racing at such high altitude. We were above 2,000m almost the entire stage, and it killed me,” Valverde said. “The mountains that lie ahead are different. We’re still in the race, so we’ll keep fighting, and maybe even regain some time. Now, we’ll see.”

We’ll see. The Giro is sure to deliver more reversals of fortunes before ending in Torino in a week’s time.