Vincenzo Nibali: Remco’s time gap in Giro d’Italia chrono the biggest surprise
Italian cycling star Vincenzo Nibali may have retired at the end of last year, but ‘the Shark of Messina’ was already back at the Giro d’Italia this week and able to offer insight into how riders, who were his rivals as recently as last October, were now performing in the Sicilian’s home Grand Tour.
Remco Evenepoel’s spectacular opening time trial ride on Saturday was still very much the hot topic for discussion at the stage 2 start, but Nibali – famous for having a keener-than-usual ability to ‘read’ races – said the Belgian's Soudal-QuickStep rider's dramatic opening performance had only partly surprised him.
“Opening time trials have always shown the big leaders making a big impact in a Grand Tour from the word go, so that in itself is not so unusual,” Nibali told Cyclingnews in the start town of Teramo.
“Just think of 2019 when [Primož] Roglič took the Giro’s pink jersey in Madonna di San Luca," when Nibali, considered Roglic’s top rival, lost 23 seconds to the Slovenian in the opening Giro TT.
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Giro d'Italia: Remco Evenepoel flies across time trial course for victory and first maglia rosa
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“So we’re seeing Remco do something [like] that, but the difference is that he did such a good time trial, one that blew away his rivals.”
Nibali warned, however, that just because Evenepoel had struck such a hard blow so early in the race, it did not mean that he would be superior throughout. Too much could happen between here and Rome and the exceptionally hard third week of the Giro d'Italia could well play a huge role in that.
“The Giro is very long, and I think he’ll almost certainly give away the jersey early on to try and get it back. But a lot can happen regardless of what he wants to do.”
“The last week is really tough, the Bondone and the uphill time trial and the Tre Cime de Lavaredo” – where Nibali sealed his 2013 victory in the race – “is a major challenge.”
“It comes right at the end of a stage which is already really hard in itself, with 4,500 metres of climbing and when people’s energy is all but spent.”
If Evenepoel's success was widely anticipated, Nibali said he expected new names to shine through in the Giro, but that rather than the opening time trial, “it’s the first summit finish [on stage 4] where we’ll really see who they could be.”
As for Nibali himself, he said that after so many years as a professional, with his first Grand Tour of 27 the Giro d’Italia back in 2007, it was a real pleasure to be witnessing a three-week stage race purely as a spectator.
“It’s a very different perspective, but I’m really enjoying it,” he told Cyclingnews. “I’ve always lived through this sport as an athlete and now it’s really nice to see it as an observer, from the other side of the fence.”