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Thursday’s climbing time trial could crown Giro champion

With foul weather potentially cutting more climbs from the 96th Giro, the uphill TT takes on increased importance for Nibali and rivals

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VICENZA, Italy (VN) — More than 3,000 kilometers of racing at the 2013 Giro d’Italia could come down to little more than 20km of mountain pavement during Thursday’s climbing time trial. With winter-like weather threatening to neutralize parts of two dramatic climbing stages still on tap across the Dolomites, the 20.6km race against the clock from Mori to Polsa will take on added importance in the race for the pink jersey.

“Tomorrow is a very important stage,” overall leader Vincenzo Nibali said. “It’s a decisive day in the balance of this Giro.”

Nibali (Astana) will be looking to widen his lead to Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), still lurking in second, at 1:26. A strong ride by Nibali could eliminate most of his rivals and push the Italian over the top going into the final three days of racing in this Giro.

“I usually do pretty well in climbing time trials,” Nibali said. “It’s an important gap to Cadel, but you can never let down your guard with him. Two minutes would be a better lead. Cadel has always been there at the front. He is pedaling well.”

On paper, Thursday’s route certainly favors Nibali. The Italian will also have the advantage of starting last and will know the time differences to his direct rivals.

The stage begins in on the track in Mori and remains flat for about one kilometer. From there, it kicks up at a steady grade of about six percent for six kilometers.

A more moderate middle section provides a short breather, with a shallow descent through the town of Brentonico at 11km. The hardest part of the climb begins at 14km, with a final average grade of more than seven percent in the final 7km. The total elevation gain is 1,018 meters, with an average grade of 5.7 percent and ramps as steep as 10 percent.

Nibali is still without a stage victory, but he said the most important challenge now is to defend and widen his grip on the maglia rosa.

“I will only try to win one stage, whether it’s tomorrow or Friday or Saturday,” he said. “To defend a jersey like this is already a win. If I can, I will try to win a stage. The most important goal is to win the Giro.”

Evans is the top threat for pink

Evans remains Nibali’s most direct threat. The climbing time trial is one of four stages that the Australian had the chance to preview when he made the late decision to start the Giro. As Evans said in a rest-day press conference Monday, he will go out swinging.

With the threat of route changes affecting the decisive climbing stages later this week, Evans admitted that tomorrow’s TT is even more important.

“I look at it as three really important days for selection,” Evans said in a team release. “Obviously if you take out two of those, then a minute-and-a-half to take back in 20 kilometers is pretty difficult. The time trial was always going to be one of those [decisive stages] and it’s not a very long one.

“But even if you have one percent more in the legs or a little bit better recovery, or you’ve had a little less effort in the two weeks leading into it, you can really make a difference. It’s pretty much up all uphill.”

Rigoberto Urán (Sky), third at 2:46, said the climbing time trial would be a decisive moment in the 96th Giro. With Nibali and Evans better time trialists, the Colombian will be fighting to defend his podium position against threats from behind.

“We’ve gotten this far, now we shall see. It’s a hard stage, and it’s very important for everyone,” Urán told VeloNews. “We can only help for better weather in the mountains. Everyone’s suffering with the cold. For sure, it’s going to be difficult.”

For Nibali, tomorrow’s stage will be critically important to secure his grip on the pink jersey.

Nasty weather could see such climbs as the Passo di Gavia and Passo dello Stelvio eliminated from Friday’s stage while things are even bleaker for Saturday’s climbs across the Dolomites.

When asked if he would feel like a legitimate winner of the Giro if many of the final climbs were eliminated, Nibali said he could only race what’s available.

“If they are neutralized, it will be certainly easier for me to mark my rivals,” he said. “It’s not something I can control.”

Giro officials speaking on RAI said that they still expect to be able to conduct Friday’s 19th stage over the Gavia and Stelvio as planned. Photographs from the former on Wednesday showed 20-foot snow walls lining the road, with the pavement clear near the summit.

Meanwhile, forecasters are calling for continued mild weather for Thursday’s start in Mori, with temperatures in the low 70s Fahrenheit and a 30-percent chance of rain.