For a few kilometres, down the descent of the final climb of the day, we were treated to a mini-masterclass from Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian, out of contention for the Pink Jersey, wrist in a cast from a pre-Giro bone-break, took the chance to salvage a bit of pride.
“How many risks do you want to take, eh?” he asked the peloton, before haring away off the summit of the Passo del Carnaio like a man with his trousers on fire.
Ineos, leading the group of favourites, took the bait.
Nibali has form in this regard. He messes with the mind. The psychological pressure he can exert by attacking a descent, in the full knowledge that not only is he the best descender in the business but everyone knows he’s the best descender in the business, has won him bike races over the years.
Il Lombardia, in 2017, for example.
Today’s move was not a race-winner. The Stage was long gone, eleven minutes down the road, and the Pink Jersey is currently out of reach. It was a pride thing. The Sicilian leapt briefly into the spotlight of this great race: “Hey guys, remember me? Can you follow this?”
They couldn’t, as it happened.
Off the descent, and with a three-kilometre run into town, Nibali ultimately nibbled back seven seconds on the main group of GC favourites. Gianni Moscon, one of Egan Bernal’s loyal henchman, hit the deck on a bend in the process of chasing.
Falling for Nibali’s ruse hook, line and sinker.
It’s tempting to wonder if this is the first sign of a Lazarus-like comeback from Vincenzo. It almost certainly isn’t. But maybe he’s ready to light up the rest of the race in his own way? With cavalier attacks for stage wins and panic inducing escapades down mountainsides?
We can but hope.
Meanwhile, after the harem-scarem of the Stage 11 gravel the peloton called Stage 12 a day off. The race rolled out from Siena, took in Florence, and then soaked up the Apennine Mountains on the way to a finish at Bagno di Romagna.
It was, quite frankly, absurdly beautiful.
The climbing was relentless – this was still a hard, hard day – but the group of favourites were content to spend it sitting on the wheel of Filippo Ganna: the Italian, charged with shepherding Pink Jersey Egan Bernal, doing a decent impression at this Giro d’Italia of a man with four lungs.
Just sitting there, pulling the whole race along behind him.
Way up the road, meanwhile, a big breakaway sharpened itself to a fine point, so that by the time they descended that final col they were down to four: Gianluca Brambilla, George Bennett, Chris Hamilton and Andrea Vendrame.
From there, it was civil war.Embed from Getty Images
Best buddies all day, working like a well-oiled machine, once the four could sniff a win they set about hoodwinking one another. On the run-in to town Hamilton and Vendrame burst clear. Bennett and Brambilla looked at each other, and then looked again, “you chase…no, you chase,” and like that, the moment was lost.
Vendrame and Hamilton immediately pulled out fifty metres and we were down to two. Vendrame, the noted fast finisher, got in position for the sprint, led out the sprint, and then won the sprint. Grand Tour career stage win number one for the promising Italian.
For Bennett and Brambilla an immediate inquest began. All arms waving and semi-insulting hand gestures. Like a proper Italian bike race. And with Vincenzo Nibali showing the first, twitching signs of some form, it might be about to get a whole lot more Italian.
(Top Image: reproduced through Fair Use via: https://racing.trekbikes.com/riders/trek-segafredo-men/vincenzo-nibali)