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SANTA MARIA DI SALA, Italy (VN) — The peloton spun out of the Dolomites on Thursday only to make a U-turn for the final two mountain stages of the 2019 Giro d’Italia.
All eyes are on Richard Carapaz and whether the ambitious but untested Movistar rider can fend off the inevitable final assaults on his pink jersey.
Enemy No. 1 for Movistar is Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali, who said it’s all or nothing with three decisive stages to go.
“I certainly want to fight for a third Giro,” Nibali said. “Given what I’ve done before and where I am, winning or losing counts a lot more. Finishing second or third doesn’t count for anything.”
Nibali, now 1:54 behind Carapaz, admitted Movistar is looking in a strong position going into Friday’s uphill finale. It’s a finish that is considered easier than what the peloton raced Wednesday.
It’s Saturday’s five-climb epic stage from Feltre to Monte Avena that should set the table for Verona’s final-day time trial.
Some are asking if Nibali is capable of pulling off another miracle finish like he did in 2016, when he came back from five minutes in arrears to win.
Right now, against a well-armed Movistar, he’d need to do something even more dramatic, a la Chris Froome and his all-or-nothing attack over the Colle delle Finestre in 2018.
“I don’t know,” Nibali said. “You need the legs as well to do an attack like [Froome]. You need a really strong team that sets down a really high tempo. I’ll have to see how my teammates are, we’ll have to see and decide how to play our cards. Every Giro has its own story, every race has its own story, and every stage has its own story. It’s not straightforward.”
At the end of a three-week Giro, accented by many long, but relatively easy stages coupled with incessant rain, Nibali said it’s hard to measure the legs of his rivals.
So far, it’s been Carapaz who has set the tempo of the race. Surrounded by a deep and experienced Movistar bench, he is looking solid in pink.
“I am motivated because there are a still a lot of mountains ahead of us on favorable terrain for me,” Carapaz said. “The team is around me and that gives me confidence.”
If anyone is sounding confident right now, it’s Carapaz. After fending off Nibali over the Mortirolo, he gapped his rivals Wednesday to pad his lead.
The 26-year-old isn’t trying to come across brash, but revealed that he told bike sponsors Canyon to get a pink bike in the works last weekend, a day before he bolted away to win the stage to Courmayeur. The previous stage, Carapaz bounded clear of Nibali and pre-race favorite Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) to reel back more than a minute. The next day, he won the stage and took the maglia rosa.
Bike sponsor Canyon waited a few days to roll it out, and Movistar presented the pink bike to Carapaz on his birthday Wednesday evening. He debuted it in Thursday’s stage.
“I said it as a joke to one of our sponsors that he should prepare a pink bike because I was feeling good, that he should get a pink bike ready, that I was going to take the lead,” Carapaz said. “I came into the race prepared in the best way possible, and after I won a stage and finished fourth last year, I knew I would go well.”
Carapaz said he could never have imagined doing as well as he has, but now that he’s in pink, he wants to defend his lead all the way into Verona’s 17km time trial.
Rivals know they need to take back on Carapaz Friday and Saturday if they hope to have a chance to wrestle it away Sunday.
Roglic took big gains on Carapaz in the opening two time trials, but now the Slovenian is 2:16 in arrears, a margin that his team admitted might be too much ground to make up in 17km.
“Primoz has to make the difference somewhere before the TT in Verona —2:16 in 17km is too much,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels. “If he has the legs, either tomorrow on the final climb or the day after, maybe he can try. Someone has to drop [Carapaz] too; that’s not so easy.”
Other rivals behind Roglic and Nibali seem too distant to be a real threat. The race for the podium will also take hold in the closing days, meaning that Carapaz can follow the wheels, and then come over the top if he’s feeling good.
Movistar’s Landa will also be a factor and the Spaniard will try to ride onto the podium. Carapaz insisted that Landa and he are friends, and that there’s no chance of treachery.
“Most important for me is that I have a team that is really backing me,” Carapaz said. “We’ve seen Roglic suffering, but we cannot discount him. He is a very dangerous rival and we know he can do a great TT. Nibali is a big rival because we all know what he is capable of.
“I am not thinking too far ahead,” Carapaz said. “We all know how the other Giros have turned out, so we hope to defend it the best way possible.”