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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia: Mountains loom large for Vincenzo Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang after ITT setbacks

Vincenzo Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang both struggled in Saturday's ITT at the Giro d'Italia. Now, both veterans must look to the coming mountain stages to gain back the lost time.

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The pathway to pink at the 2020 Giro d’Italia just became much tougher for the race’s two top contenders.

Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) both entered the 2020 Giro on the shortest list of favorites, due to their impressive stage racing results on the world stage. Now, after dismal rides in the race’s stage 14 individual time trial, both men are on the back foot as the race heads into the mountains.

Nibali, 35, finished 23rd place in the 34-kilometer ITT, while Fuglsang was 29th. Both men ceded more than a minute to overall leader, João Almeida (Deceuninck–Quick-Step), who finished 6th place on the day. Also scoring a strong ride was GC veteran Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), who is now in second place overall, just 56 seconds down.

“Well, I started good and found my rhythm quite quickly,” Fuglsang said after his ride. “I came good over the first part, the Muro but on the final part I couldn’t push the way I wanted. It is how it is.”

Fuglsang struggled in Saturday’s ITT. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Indeed, the Dane hemorrhaged time in the final half of the individual time trial and stopped the clock at 45:53, more than three minutes down on winner Filippo Ganna of Team Ineos-Grenadiers. The showing was not up to Fuglsang’s standards — he’s often recorded top finishes in individual time trials, and is a two-time Danish national champion in the event.

It was obvious that Fuglsang had struggled out on the course, and as more riders crossed the line his dismal ride became more apparent. Fugslang was bested by pure climbers like Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling) and Ilur Zakarin (CCC Team), as well as by sprinter Diego Ulissi (UAE-Team Emirates), and even domestiques such as Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) and Attila Valter (CCC Team).

More importantly, Fuglsang lost 1:42 to Almeida. He’s now in 12th place overall, 4:08 down.

“Tomorrow is an important and tough mountain stage, so we have to focus on that now,” Fuglsang added.

Nibali echoed that sentiment after his ride on Saturday, telling reporters that the real assessment of the GC picture should be made after Sunday’s hulking mountain stage, which concludes with the soaring summit finish to Piancavallo.

“The time at the arrival was certainly not bad,” Nibali said. “If I compare it with the others it was okay, with the only exceptions of Kelderman and Almeida, who went really strong, the pink jersey above all. Anyway, the real balance of the race must be done after tomorrow’s mountain stage of Piancavallo.”

Nibali’s result in the race against the clock was better than that of Fuglsang — the Italian ceded 1:23 to Almeida. But Nibali never looked comfortable on the bicycle, and cameras showed him shifting on the seat throughout the race.

“The analysis of today’s time trial should be done on a personal level, and also in comparison with others,” Nibali said. “For my part, the most objective numbers on performance come from my Garmin and, honestly, what I saw was comforting. My power was remarkable, in line with the expectations I had set with [Trek-Segafredo trainer]Paolo Slongo at the start.”

Nibali has scored top TT finishes throughout his career, with three ITT victories. During his 2014 win at the Tour de France Nibali was 4th in the final individual time trial. He also won an ITT during his 2013 Giro d’Italia win.

Nibali has also struggled with the ITT during successful grand tour rides. During his 2016 Giro d’Italia win, Nibali lagged behind his biggest rivals in the race’s three individual time trials. Instead, the Italian attacked relentlessly in the high mountains, and his aggression in the third week of the race netted him the win.

That strategy is what Nibali and Fuglsang must now follow over the next six stages. Sunday’s route finishes with the cat 1 climb to Piancavallo. On Wednesday, the race’s 17 stage concludes with the summit finish to Madonna Di Campiglio, and on Thursday the Giro’s punishing 18th stage finishes atop the Laghi Di Cancano after an ascent of the Passo dello Stelvio.

The final uphill test comes on stage 20, with a four-climb route that concludes with the summit finish to Sestriere.

It’s an explosive four stages that provides the only opportunity for Fuglsang and Nibali to get ahead. And get ahead they must do — this year’s Giro d’Italia concludes with a 15.7km individual time trial into Milano.