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Carapaz sleeps easy as Nibali hypes friction

The sharks are circling ahead of the last mountain stage of the Giro d'Italia, but race leader Richard Carapaz is unflustered

SAN MARTINO DI CASTROZZA, Italy (VN) — Movistar’s Richard Carapaz is ready to fend off attacks from all sides as he prepares to defend the pink jersey in Saturday’s final mountain duel, but at least he knows the enemy won’t come from within.

With Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and the Italian media trying to hype up friction between Carapaz and Movistar teammate Mikel Landa, the pink jersey said he’s sleeping calmly at night.

“Landa told me to my face he’s at my service tomorrow,” Carapaz said. “I know they are coming after me, both in the race and out of it. I have confidence in my team.”

With the Giro d’Italia coming down to its crescendo Saturday, Movistar is bracing for attacks on all sides.

With Landa hovering within striking distance of the podium, in fourth just 47 seconds behind third-place Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Nibali said he expects Landa to attack to try to hit the podium, and that he can exploit the Spaniard’s wheel to try to gap Carapaz.

“People are ready to attack. It’s a bunch of sharks out there,” said Movistar sport director Max Sciandri. “It’s not just Nibali who is the ‘shark.’ They’re all sharks right now, more so if they’re smelling blood.”

The ever stoic Carapaz is looking solid in pink and shows no signs of folding. Backed by the powerful Movistar team, especially with a committed Landa, it will be a challenge for his rivals to try to crack him.

“We are so lucky that we have Landa,” Sciandri said. “He is in good condition, he gives tranquility and he knows what he’s doing.”

Friday’s summit finale was a bit of a dud, and besides a late flare from Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez, Carapaz will carry a significant advantage to his direct GC rivals.

Roglic also showed signs of life with some late accelerations, still third at 2:16 back. But it’s second-place Nibali at 1:54 back who is causing Movistar some worry.

Everyone expects Nibali to try to blow up the race during the five-climb, 194km stage across the Dolomites, including the fearsome Passo Manghen and Passo Rolle in the middle of the stage.

Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White, who celebrated Esteban Chaves’s stage win Friday, said Nibali has to make a long-range attack to try to crack Carapaz.

“It’s all or nothing tomorrow, and there is still a lot to play for,” White said. “ For me, Carapaz is the winner of the Giro. I think Nibali will attack on the second climb tomorrow, and he will try to put [Damiano] Caruso and [Domenico] Pozzovivo in the break and try to bridge across to them. If you leave it to the final climb, it will be too late.”

Ever since Carapaz took pink in stage 14, Movistar has been able to stymie its rivals with superb tactics and superior climbing legs. They’ll be able to play off Carapaz’s lead as they try to control Saturday’s final mountain showdown.

“Tomorrow they will be moving right from the first climb. We know that Nibali will attack us,” said Movistar’s Luis Más. “We are all tired, but it gives us that little bit of extra spark to fight knowing that we can arrive to Verona with the pink jersey with Richard.”

Nibali might be right. It’s likely Landa will be attacking to try to gap Roglic to move onto the podium. The ideal scenario is that Landa moves, Nibali follows and Carapaz bridges across. Then the Movistar pair drop Nibali and finish one-two hand-in-hand atop the Giro’s final summit, with Landa leading the way.

Carapaz doesn’t want to jinx anything.

“Tomorrow will be very complicated. It’s lot of KMs, a lot of vertical, and we know there can be changes in the GC,” Carapaz said. “With the advantage we have we can play with it against our rivals. We will think about the time trial when we get to Verona.”

If Carapaz is in pink in Verona with the lead he holds now, the Giro will be seeing its first winner from Ecuador.