Former champion Vincenzo Nibali said he is ready to bite into his deficit to Giro d’Italia leader Steven Kruijswik on his way to stopping the Dutchman making history in Turin next Sunday.
Lotto team leader Kruijswijk is poised to become the first Dutch winner of the three-week Italian race after stretching his overall lead on pre-race favorite Nibali to nearly three minutes.
Nibali (Astana), nicknamed ‘Lo Squalo’ (The Shark), was in second place at only 41secs behind Kruijswijk after Saturday’s ‘Queen Stage’ in the Dolomites mountains.
But a mediocre performance in Sunday’s 15th stage uphill time trial, when he lost further time due to a mechanical problem and a subsequent bike change, has left the Italian a massive 2min 51sec behind his Dutch rival. Nibali says there is now only one option if he is to wrest back the pink jersey.
“I will attack as I have done before,” said the Sicilian, who nonetheless admitted he is hoping fate will play a hand. “Things can change every day on this race: (Tom) Dumoulin was really strong and now he’s gone home. So has (Mikel) Landa.”
Dutchman Dumoulin (Giant) spent several days in the pink jersey before pulling out on the 11th stage with saddle sores, while Spanish contender Landa (Sky) retired through sickness last week. Nibali virtually admitted the pink jersey could be heading to the Netherlands for the first time if Kruijswijk holds firm.
“If Kruijswijk doesn’t collape, it’s a no-brainer. He will win the Giro.”
But the 31-year-old Italian, one of only six riders to have won all the Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain, said he’s not defeated yet.
Following the race’s final rest day on Monday, another hard day in the mountains awaits Tuesday. Although stages 17 and 18 hold little opportunity for Nibali to claw back time, stages 19 and 20 will be decisive before the final, celebratory ride into Turin next Sunday.
Stage 19 is a 162 km run from Pinerolo which takes the peloton over the tough Col d’Agnello – the highest peak in this year’s 99th edition – before a long descent into France and the subsequent climb to a summit finish in Risoul, where the Italian won a stage on the 2014 Tour de France.
The decider will likely be stage 20 next Saturday, when the peloton tackles the Vars, Bonette and Lombarda climbs in an otherwise short but intense 132 km penultimate stage.
With Spaniard Alejandro Valverde in fourth place and 38secs behind Nibali, the Italian could find a willing ally to help him unseat Kruijswijk.
But despite their “mutual respect” of each other, Nibali admitted: “Let’s say it wouldn’t be easy.”
Instead, Nibali hopes to turn his hurt pride — following his dismal time trial performance — to his advantage. “My pride’s been hurt but I’m still confident,” he added.
“I’ve always achieved my best successes after a defeat.”