Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) was smart to not try and follow Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) when the Spaniard attacked with seven kilometres to go to the top of Etna on stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia.
Michele Scarponi tried to follow but paid the price for his effortsni. The “shark from the strait” rode like he did at last year’s Vuelta a Espana when Ezequiel Mosquera dropped him on the Bola del Mundo, but Contador isn’t Mosquera and Nibali didn’t come across this time around, following his own pace.
“When Contador attacked, he was really strong”, Nibali said after the stage.
“I kept my rhythm and I accelerated in the final kilometer when I realized that Scarponi was off the back. At least I wanted to gain some seconds on him (17) but Contador was significantly ahead. He was actually one step ahead of anybody else today.”
This was a special stage for the Sicilian, as he grew up in Messina where the stage started. They cheered for Giovanni Visconti as well.
The Farnese rider was part of a seven-man breakaway, wearing the Italian champion jersey in the Giro that celebrates the 150th anniversary of the unity of Italy. “It’s been a beautiful day”, Visconti said. “I’ve been touched by the encouragements of the crowds.”
Sicilian fans knew that Visconti has been suffering from a knee injury. They brought a huge plate of canolli – the famous creamy Sicilian desert – to Nibali and Visconti who were the guest stars of the Processo alla tappa, the famous TV show that follows the stage broadcasting on RAI television. But the riders didn’t touch the sweets, as it didn’t fit with their diet, they both said.
“Today was an important stage”, Nibali continued. “I’ve only missed the capacity of acceleration that Contador has. When he opened the gun, we all watched each other, except Scarponi who paid for it later. I knew the climb, I knew the roads, these were my training courses in the past. I’m looking at doing the best I can in every stage. We knew that the strongest rider would conquer the pink jersey here on the Etna. If Contador goes like this, it’ll be hard to beat him.”
Responsibilities are now on Contador’s shoulders with two weeks to go. “He has a good team”, Nibali told Cyclingnews after the Processo alla tappa.
“He’s got Jesus Hernandez, Daniel Navarro and Volodimir Gustov to escort him in the climbs, he has Matteo Tosatto to drive him on the flat. Saxo Bank remained hidden today but they have the capacity to control the race.”
Nibali keeps the ambition of winning the Giro after the Vuelta, but he’s realistic about the difference in the opposition. “This is a different race for me than the Vuelta last year”, said “the shark”. “Here I’m expected and applauded since the start in Turin but I remain serene.”