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‘I miss the Giro so much:’ Nibali, Evenepoel reflect on loss of season’s first grand tour

The two GC contenders should have traded blows at the Giro's opening stage Saturday, but instead are having to wait until October for La Grande Partenza

There may well be 15 years and eight Giro d’Italia appearances between them, but Sicilian veteran Vincenzo Nibali and breakout Belgian hotshot Remco Evenepoel do share one thing: a sense of loss at riding out May with no Giro to race.

In a pre-coronavirus world, the Giro d’Italia would have sparked into life Saturday with a nine-kilometer time trial through Hungarian capital Budapest. However, with the whole racing season being upheaved due to the fallout of the global pandemic, the race is now set to run October 3-25.

Nibali had been planning to make his ninth start at La Corsa Rosa this weekend, leading his Trek-Segafredo team in a bid to take his third pink jersey.

“I miss the Giro d’Italia so much,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport this weekend. “May has been the top of the season for me for the last 15 years.”

Evenepoel, only 20 years old, has yet to experience racing the Giro in May. Despite having never raced over three weeks before, it would have been impossible not to include the Deceuninck-Quick-Step wunderkind on the long-list of those set to battle Nibali for the pink jersey. Given his proven chops against the clock, Evenepoel was a strong contender to take the GC lead after the very first stage.

“Today would have been a day full of focus, nervousness and adrenaline,” Evenepoel wrote in a post on Instagram Saturday. “I would have started my very first grand tour, today. The Giro d’Italia would have started with a nine-kilometer time trial which I was really working hard for, and I was looking forward to.”

When the UCI revealed a new 2020 calendar that placed the Flemish and Ardennes classics in conflict with the Giro, Evenepoel was one of many riders faced with a tricky decision. Hilly one-dayers such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Amstel Gold Race lend themselves to hardy GC riders, and the former had been on Evenepoel’s hit-list at the start of the year. However, Deceuninck-Quick-Step was quick to confirm this week that Evenepoel would be sacrificing the hills of the Ardennes to ensure he makes his grand tour debut this year.

Evenepoel’s power against the clock would have given him a strong chance of taking the Giro’s opening stage in Budapest. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Contrastingly, Nibali remains undecided on his plans, expressing disappointment at the Giro – Liège clash when speaking to La Gazzetta. The 35-year-old had been hoping to race La Doyenne this year, an event he has yet to win but has well within his grasp. The Sicilian has netted a handful of top-10s and a second-place in his 14 Liège appearances to date, and is a proven monument threat, having won Il Lombardia and Milano-Sanremo in the past.

“I don’t want to think about the program yet,” Nibali said. “I will not switch the button until later. Of course, I am a professional cyclist, but I am still very calm.”

“The Giro is still in my head, but nothing has been decided yet,” he said. “I think it is a pity that Liège-Bastogne-Liège coincides with the Giro. I’m not going to make a decision until the team has been spoken to.”

Giro organizers RCS Sport have now axed the originally-planned opening salvo of stages in Hungary and is working on preparing replacement routes, likely to take place in southern Italy. Nibali spoke evocatively of the mental whirlwind of the opening days of a grand tour, something that Evenepoel will be contending with October 3.

“These days should have been full of tension, doubt, adrenaline and fear, but also of focus,” Nibali reflected. “You’re concentrated and attentive to every detail. You ask yourself ‘Have I prepared well?’”

RCS is yet to provide any clues as to what the new opening stages of the Giro may look like this fall, and whether the race will still kick off with a time trial. Whatever format the race-opener takes later this year, and whether Evenepoel still has the opportunity to take the race’s first pink jersey or not, the youngster has already started counting the days.

“Today should have been a super important day,” Evenepoel wrote. “Today, I’m already looking forward to October 3.”