We’ve heard for years that Vincenzo Nibali, winner of all three grand tours and several one day classics, is a smart race tactician.
He is often quoted as saying he races on instinct but there’s no question he has a finely developed understanding of tactics and strategy. He knows at what point in a race that the critical moment has arrived.
So we have to say we’re in agreement with a number of critics who fault the Shark for not paying attention when Richard Carapaz stole the Giro from under his nose. The Movistar rider had come in 4th overall in last year’s Giro d’Italia and while not among the obvious big favorites for victory, he was not someone you let slip up the road.
Sadly, the Shark was distracted by his silly and pointless attempts to shame rival Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) into doing more work to set the pace and chase down threats. After the Giro was over and Carapaz the clear winner, Nibali attempted to place the blame on the media for creating this “polemica.” That seemed disingenuous.
A man of his experience knows that when he makes inflammatory remarks about a rival, the media will write that story. His quotes were indisputable fact and not any fabrication of journalists. Nibali was so busy with his psychological warfare against Roglic, that he wasn’t paying attention when Carapaz gained time on stage 13 and put himself in control of the race on stage 14.
By then, Nibali realized he had botched his race tactically and was now battling for second place, not first. Carapaz’ Movistar squad, by far the strongest in the race, gave the Italian their version of a Team Sky bludgeoning. Nibali’s few attempts at aggression were quickly squashed by Mikel Landa and company.
On the final mountain stage of the race, Nibali was reduced to working with Movistar just to put time into a flagging Roglic and guarantee himself the second step of the podium. While promising to go down fighting, Nibali made but two momentary and half-hearted attacks that seemed ceremonial at best.
If Nibali comes back to the Giro d’Italia next year, he will be 35. He insists that age isn’t yet a factor but we couldn’t help but feel he’d let his last shot at a third victory in his home grand tour disappear. He demanded that Roglic chase down Carapaz and when the Slovenian wouldn’t, Nibali decided he didn’t want to take the race in his own hands.
He’d marked the wrong man for the wrong amount of time.