Post-volcano. The Giro after Etna.

Nibali needs another gear.

How happy is Ivan Basso that he skipped the Giro d’Italia?

After yesterday’s smack-down by Alberto Contador on Mount Etna, the race for the final maglia rosa came into tighter focus. It has a distinctly Spanish appearance.

Alberto said he didn’t want to “prove anything to anybody” but the non-proof was sure convincing. He dropped the rest of the race on Etna, putting Nibali and Scarponi and Kreuziger into the red lava zone, eventually putting 50 seconds into his rivals by the summit finish. It’s one of the world’s most active volcanoes — but perhaps not as active as Alberto himself.

The post-race quotes were both revealing and expected. Of course the race is far from over, many mountains to come and anything can happen. Duh. But we had to laugh at the gem that Scarponi produced for the assembled journalists. “I’m disappointed but it’s normal to be disappointed,” he said.

That’s the best description of what it’s like to race against Contador we’ve ever heard. That’s just a step away from saying “it’s normal to feel beaten and oppressed and without hope.” You hear things like that and you figure Scarponi has in a small but psychologically huge way, given up. He’s lowered his eyes to the second step on the podium.

Roman Kreuziger (Astana) was worried that he might blow big time on Etna. It wasn’t just about cracking, but dying. “I was worried that I would have destroyed myself and I wouldn’t have made it to the top,” he said. “But Scarponi went after him and we saw how he ended up.”

Yup, long way to go in the Giro but when a top contender is already concerned about self-destruction, we can pretty much run a pencil thru his name. Everyone warned this was the hardest Giro in ages. Contenders have already turned into survivors.

The Czech put on the brave face while looking around for his legs. “But there’s no need to be down about that because it’s a very tough Giro and anything could happen still.” Yup, the Court of Arbitration in Sport could issue a surprise ruling tomorrow and bar him from racing.

Meanwhile Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), riding without the support of last year’s winner Ivan Basso (who must be thrilled he made that call) was also disturbed by current events. ”Contador showed he’s got an extra gear when he went,” said the Shark. “He was almost impossible to go after.” A general rule of winning grand tours is never to use the word “impossible” when discussing your chances against a rival.

Post-volcano, Nibali spoke of looking ahead, not behind, of opportunities, riding smart and limiting damages. All good stuff but vaguely defeatist in language. In winning the Vuelta last season, Nibali showed a steady confidence that will serve him well in this torturous Giro.

Twisted Spoke sees Scarponi burning himself out, Kreuziger slowly fading and Nibali taking a well-deserved second place. Nibali is the Andy Schleck of the Giro, and there’s no shame in that, just yet.

The truth is, we appreciate the candor of Nibali, Scarponi and Kreuziger. They’re smart, tough riders and they’ve done everything to prepare for this Giro. But there’s an underlying sense of collective futility that throws a lot of handwriting on the wall. It’s the myth of Sisyphus with a very large Spanish boulder.

While an impressive 9 out of 10 on the UCI “suspicion” list, Denis Menchov (Geox) saw his chances vaporize on Etna. The Silent Assassin rolled in a quiet 20th overall at 3:18 back. Our suspicion is his Giro is over.

Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha, the Russian Global CYcling Shindig was another climber who failed to erupt.He finished the day by losing lost 2:21 and tumbling to 22nd overall at 3:34 back. Given this mountain-crazy Giro, we haven’t heard the last of Rodriguez but we won’t be celebrating his triumph in Milan in two weeks. This is a war of attrition that puts a premium on riding steady, no highs, no lows.

Today is a day of rest. That time of recuperation, physically and mentally, when all of Alberto Contador’s rivals try to find their legs, but mostly their hope.

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  • Ricola

    This stage was big fun. Thanks for the recap!

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

      More big fun on the way, baby. Matt