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Nibali locks horns with Carapaz for Giro showdown

As Primoz Roglic fades in the 2019 Giro d'Italia, the battle for pink is increasingly becoming a match between Vincenzo Nibali and Richard Carapaz

With Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) slowly giving up time, the Giro d’Italia is evolving into a showdown between Vincenzo Nibali and Richard Carapaz.

The veteran Italian and the untested Ecuadorian rode to a draw Tuesday as their mutual interests combined to distance the ever-dangerous Roglic going into Sunday’s final time trial.

Carapaz defended his pink jersey Tuesday but it was plainly obvious to everyone inside the Movistar bus that Nibali was also going for them on the Mortirolo.

“Today confirmed that Nibali is emerging as our most dangerous rival for this Giro,” said Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué. “Nibali is the rider that we have to control.”

Movistar, Bahrain-Merida and Astana piled on Tuesday to distance Roglic, who could not match Nibali’s lethal acceleration or Movistar’s numerical and tactical advantage on the Mortirolo.

No one is writing off Roglic just yet, especially with Sunday’s final-day time trial waiting in Verona, but Nibali admitted that things are getting dicey with the stubborn Carapaz clutching the pink jersey.

“For the GC, we need to take a look and think about something to beat Carapaz,” Nibali said. “It’s not easy because he’s shown himself to be very strong, in-form and ready for this Giro d’Italia. In this moment, it’s really complicated.”

Carapaz is nursing a 1:47 lead to Nibali. Movistar knows well Nibali’s cagey experience and danger in the final week of a grand tour. Though Nibali is not as much of a threat in the time trial as Roglic, Movistar realizes they cannot let their guard down while the Shark is swimming nearby.

Everyone’s primary concern Tuesday was to try to gap Roglic. The Slovenian took big gains on Nibali, Carapaz and everyone else in the Giro’s first two time trials. The climbers have been slowly chipping away, and on Tuesday, they piled on to mutually benefit from gapping the Slovenian.

“Roglic cannot be disregarded. He is a rider who can take four or even five seconds per kilometer in the final time trial,” Unzué said. “We had to take advantage of the opportunity to try to distance Roglic.”

Nibali had hoped to not only gap Roglic, but put pressure on Movistar as well. Nibali bolted clear halfway up the Mortirolo’s northern face, but the road is so steep that after two kilometers of hard digging, he only had a few hundred meters of advantage. That might add up to quite a few seconds, but as Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) revealed, one determined surge on a flatter stretch of road can quickly close the gap.

When Nibali realized that Carapaz, Movistar teammate Mikel Landa and Lopez were on his tail, he switched tactics from trying to gap the pink jersey to collaborating to drop their communal threat in the form of Roglic.

“I checked behind and saw they were coming closer so I let myself get caught without forcing it too much,” Nibali said. “In the finale, it was right to ride together and collaborate so we could gain time on Roglic with a view to the stages coming up.”

Movistar is counting on both Carapaz and Landa, and the Spanish team had the strongest tactical play Tuesday.

“The tactics were just how we had talked about them,” said Movistar sport director Chente Garcia. “We wanted to put people in the break and then we worked to keep Carapaz and Landa well-positioned on the approach to the Mortirolo. Today was a very important day, not only to defend the pink jersey but also to take time on some important rivals. In terms of looking ahead, of having the pink jersey in Verona, this was a very important step.”

Neither Movistar nor Carapaz are looking too far down the road. They realize full well one misstep can prove fatal against Nibali. The Shark knows he needs to bite a few more times if he has hopes of winning this Giro.

“Carapaz showed that he’s in form,” Nibali said. “Today, he managed the situation very well but, I don’t know, it didn’t seem to me that he was at his best. But having  Landa riding like that meant that he was able to manage the situation.”

So far, Carapaz is holding up his end of the bargain. As long as his legs hold out, he can fend off Nibali, Roglic and any hint of mutiny inside his own team.

The Ecuadorian is proving to be one tough nut to crack.