Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali fended off several surprise attacks by his rivals to maintain his grip on the overall lead for a ninth straight day on Tuesday’s hilly 16th stage of the Giro d’Italia, won by Spain’s Benat Intxausti.
In a fast and frantic finale as the peloton tore down a twisting descent from the third category climb of Andrate, Nibali responded to attacks by 2011 Giro winner Michele Scarponi, fifth overall.
After closing down further challenges by Colombian Rigoberto Uran, third overall, and his compatriot Carlos Alberto Betancur, who leads the best young rider classification, Nibali crossed the finish line in Ivrea in 12th place in a group of 12 riders.
The 28-year-old Sicilian leads by 1 minute, 26 seconds from Australian Cadel Evans, with Uran in third, 2:46 back, while Scarponi moved up to fourth, 3:53 in arrears.
“Scarponi went for it and I had to keep him under control, but this wasn’t supposed to be a difficult stage and it turned out being tougher than anybody expected,” Nibali told reporters. “He’s clearly come out of [Monday’s] rest day feeling ready to go on the warpath. It was a very dangerous descent, with rivulets of water in some places and dry in others, so I preferred to be in front anyway, but it was not easy.”
With his confidence rising as he dealt with his rivals’ attacks, Nibali allowed teammate Tanel Kangert to go for the stage win, but the Estonian was beaten by Spain’s Intxausti, who took his Movistar squad’s third stage victory in this year’s Giro.
Poland’s Przemyslaw Niemiec was third.
After making a late move with his two rivals, Intxausti said he had let the other two riders take the initiative in the final acceleration, before surprising them from behind.
“I kept a cool head, let them do the work and then with 300 meters to go I thought: ‘It’s now or never,’” Intxausti, who led the Giro for a day earlier in the race, told reporters.
The Basque rider dedicated his first Grand Tour stage win to his friend and teammate Xavi Tondo, who died in a domestic accident in 2011.
“It’s just two days before the anniversary of his death and for sure he would be celebrating it if he were around still,” Intxausti said.
After yesterday’s flat stage, the Giro tackles its three final mountain stages, with today’s uphill time trial followed by two summit finishes deep in the Dolomites.
“I’ll be looking to win on all three stages, but if I can only take one, I’ll be happy,” Nibali said. “My team [Astana] haven’t had a stage win yet and that’s one objective I want to achieve before the finish.”
Meanwhile, an analysis of Sylvain Georges’ B sample has confirmed his failed drugs test, the International Cycling Union (UCI) said on Tuesday.
Georges, the French AG2R rider, tested positive for the stimulant Heptaminol in a urine sample taken on May 10 and was forced to pull out of the Giro by his team.
He was not provisionally suspended by the UCI because Heptaminol, a drug that widens blood vessels and can be used in the treatment of low blood pressure, is a “specified” substance that can be used in certain circumstances, but now the UCI wants the French Cycling Federation to take action against the 29-year-old.
“The analysis of the sample B of Sylvain Georges’ urine has confirmed the result ... In accordance with the anti-doping rules, the UCI will request the French Cycling Federation opens a disciplinary procedure against the rider,” the UCI said in a statement.
Georges had no intention to dope and took a product to cure his heavy legs, AG2R team director Vincent Lavenu said.
Georges has already been barred from riding by AG2R, who are part of the Movement for Credible Cycling, which has a strong anti-doping stance.