Vincenzo Nibali of Astana this afternoon rode away from his rivals to clinch Stage 20 of the 2013 Giro d'Italia at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo and effectively seal a convincing overall victory with just tomorrow's sprint-friendly stage in Brescia to come. Meanwhile, Mark Cavendish, looking for his fifth stage victory in this year's race tomorrow, looks poised to become the fifth member of an exclusive club whose members have won the points classification in all three Grand Tours, though he'll need to place highly on tomorrow's stage.
One of Cavendish's chief challengers for the red points jersey, Cadel Evans, struggled on today's final climb in the Dolomites amid driving sleet, and the BMC Racing rider loses second place overall to Team Sky's Rigoberto Uran, third on today's stage behind Colombia rider Fabio Duarte.
Their compatriot, Carlos Betancur of AG2R, battled back from a wheel change and a tyre change early on during the final climb to take fourth on the stage and move back into the lead of the best young rider's classification. Stefano Pirazzi of Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox, meanwhile, has won the mountains classification.
This evening, it's Nibali who besides holding the maglia rosa also now leads the points classification - second-placed Cavendish will wear the red jersey tomorrow, but the likelihood is that the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider will be sporting it in his own right come the end of the stage and with it, the 2013 Giro d'Italia.
Following a dark Friday for the Giro – snow had forced the cancellation of Stage 19, that setback followed by the news that Danilo di Luca had tested positive for EPO – organisers were determined that the focus today should be on the racing.
They were also firmly resolved that the finish would take place at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, as originally envisaged, even though much of the route of today’s stage had needed to be amended to cut out climbs such as the Passo Giau.
Their reward was the image of Nibali crossing the line in celebration of his near-certain Giro d’Italia win, after the Astana rider attacked on the final climb of the day and left his rivals standing, only the Colombian trio of Uran, Duarte and Betancur able to provide any form of response.
The sleet turning to snow that made it near impossible to make out Nibali as he approached the line had got progressively worse after the peloton began the ascent from the ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, 22km from the end of the stage and at an elevation of 1,201 metres, compared to the 2,304 metres at the finish line.
The four members of today’s break – Adam Hansen of Lotto Belisol, Katusha’s Pavel Brutt, Yaroslav Popovych of Radioshack Leopard and the Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela rider Giairo Ermeti – would lead the race onto the final ascent, which began with the the Passo Tre Croci, crested 13.5km out, followed by a short descent then the tough last climb to Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
Brutt would attack and lead the race up most of that climb, with counter attacks coming from riders including Pirazzi, Orica-GreenEdge’s Peter Weening, and Eros Cappechi of Movistar.
When Nibali – criticised in the Italian press before his dominant performance in Thursday’s time trial for not having won a stage yet in this year’s race - made his move with less than 3km to go, he quickly reeled in the riders ahead of him and rode off to take a stage win that removes any doubt he fully merits this Giro victory.
Those back-to-back stage wins also put Nibali on top of the points classification, although the likelihood is it will be Cavendish who will be on the podium in the red jersey in Brescia tomorrow evening.
That seemed a distant prospect after Wednesday’s Stage 17 into Vicenza, when a tough final climb saw Cavendish dropped and denied the opportunity to contest the finish, giving him a lead of just 4 points over Evans and making the Australian favourite for many to regain the jersey he had won in 2010.
However, an uncharacteristically poor performance in the time trial, for which points are awarded, plus the cancellation of yesterday’s stage and his struggles today meant Evans was unable to overhaul Cavendish, who picked up 4 more points himself today, digging deep to be the first man in the main group through both intermediate sprint points and then finishing the stage in the gruppeto.
With most of his sprint rivals having long left the race, Cavendish will be a very strong favourite to win his fifth stage of this year’s Giro in Brescia tomorrow, and with it join Eddy Merckx, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, Laurent Jalabert and Alessandro Petacchi in topping the points classification at all three Grand Tours.
For a sprinter, under current rules, the Giro points jersey is by far the hardest of those to win – unlike the Tour or the Vuelta, points are equally spread across all stages rather than being weighted towards the flatter ones, which thereby sees GC contenders become accidental participants in the points classification too.
That’s in effect what happened last year when Cavendish, battling back from a crash in Stage 3, put in a huge effort to get through the mountains only to be pipped on the penultimate day by a single point by Joaquim Rodriguez, who was seeking to defend the maglia rosa, but would lose it in Milan on the last stage's time trial.
Cavendish, who turned 28 earlier this week, has certainly been dealt a favouable hand by the disruption the weather has caused to the race over the past week, whether in removing yesterday’s stage altogether or taking out some of the tougher climbs, but following three weeks of tough riding in mainly inclement conditions, that should in no way diminish his achievement should he win the points classification tomorrow.
Giro d'Italia Stage 20 result 1 NIBALI Vincenzo Astana Pro Team 05:27:41 2 DUARTE Fabio Team Colombia 00:17 3 URAN Rigoberto Sky Procycling 00:19 4 BETANCUR Carlos AG2R La Mondiale 00:21 5 ARU Fabio Astana Pro Team 00:44 6 PELLIZOTTI Franco Androni - Venezuela 00:48 7 POZZOVIVO Domenico AG2R La Mondiale 00:54 8 CARUSO Damiano Cannondale Pro Cycling 00:58 9 ATAPUMA Darwin Team Colombia 01:00 10 MAJKA Rafal Team Saxo-Tinkoff 01:04 11 TROFIMOV Yuri Katusha Team 01:11 12 NIEMIEC Przemyslaw Lampre - Merida 01:14 13 SCARPONI Michele Lampre - Merida ,, 14 EVANS Cadel BMC Racing Team 01:30 15 INTXAUSTI Benat Movistar Team ,, 16 KANGERT Tanel Astana Pro Team 01:36 17 ROSA Diego Androni - Venezuela 01:41 18 DANIELSON Thomas Garmin - Sharp 01:50 19 CAPECCHI Eros Movistar Team 01:53 20 KISERLOVSKI Robert RadioShack - Leopard 02:02 Overall Standings after Stage 20 1 NIBALI Vincenzo Astana Pro Team 79:23:19 2 URAN Rigoberto Sky Procycling 04:43 3 EVANS Cadel BMC Racing Team 05:52 4 SCARPONI Michele Lampre - Merida 06:48 5 BETANCUR Carlos AG2R La Mondiale 07:28 6 NIEMIEC Przemyslaw Lampre - Merida 07:43 7 MAJKA Rafal Team Saxo-Tinkoff 08:09 8 INTXAUSTI Benat Movistar Team 10:26 9 SANTAMBROGIO Mauro Vini Fantini 10:32 10 POZZOVIVO Domenico AG2R La Mondiale 10:59
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.