Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali all but sealed overall victory in the Giro d’Italia after battling through a snowstorm and sub-zero temperatures to take his second stage win of the race deep in the Dolomite mountains on Saturday.
His helmet, bike and race clothes caked in snow, Nibali raised first his right arm and then his left, kissing his wedding ring as he crossed the line in blizzard-like conditions 17 seconds ahead of Colombians Fabio Duarte and Rigoberto Uran in stage 20 of the race.
The winner of Thursday’s 20km uphill time trial, Nibali attacked with 2.5km to go, pounding past snowdrifts lying a meter deep at the side of the narrow road leading to the Tre Cime ski station and brushing aside fans who came perilously close as they tried to run alongside him.
“I attacked a little early because I knew the last two kilometers were hard, but I had no idea they were that hard,” Nibali told reporters as snow continued to fall heavily. “The last part of the climb seemed interminable, but this victory gives me a real sense of joy, the snow gave it a kind of epic feeling. I wanted to finish off the mountain stages and the race in a good way, leave it all on a high note, and that’s what I’ve done.”
With one flat straightforward stage remaining yesterday, the 28-year-old Sicilian’s solo win also increased his overall lead to 4 minutes, 43 seconds on Uran, with Australia’s Cadel Evans, who struggled on the final climb, dropping back to third.
“After what happened yesterday [when the stage was canceled due to snow] I wanted to say thank you to the fans for coming to today’s stage and waiting for hours in the snow to support us. Attacking like that was my way of doing that,” Nibali said. “I was worried about the fans getting so close to me, though, they could have knocked me off, but fortunately I could get through.”
Seventh in last year’s Giro and almost certain to finish second overall yesterday, Uran said that he was delighted with the prospect of taking his first Grand Tour podium finish.
“It was a very difficult course today, the cold and snow made it really hard, but I’m very satisfied with what I achieved,” the Sky Pro Cycling rider told reporters.
Astana’s Nibali, meanwhile, is poised to claim the second Grand Tour of his career after winning the Vuelta a Espana in 2010.
“This is a much more important moment for me than when I won the Vuelta, but if it wasn’t for the Vuelta, and my third place here [in the Giro in 2010], I would never have realized what I could achieve in Grand Tours,” Nibali said.