Campbell on Giro d’Italia: Stage 18 the turning point

Stage 18 was a turning point for Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian went on to win the Giro d'Italia. (AP/Gian Mattia D'Alberto)

Brescia, Italy is awash in pink to celebrate an Italian winning the first Grand Tour of the 2013 cycling season, the Giro d’Italia.

For nearly a century, the Giro has been the stuff of cycling legend, with snowy mountain passes connecting towns of rabid fans cheering on their heroes as the peloton passes by. Success on the Italian roads demands everything of a rider — strength, skill, teammates, health, luck.

Victory in 2013 belongs to Italian Vincenzo Nibali, who positioned himself early in the race and once taking the “maglia rosa” leader’s jersey, held it all the way to the finish. Nibali’s triumph was not only against the other riders, but against an event where conditions beat down upon the peloton throughout three weeks and more than 3,000km of stages.

Every turn of the pedals during the race ultimately culminated in Nibali’s victory. Taking time bit by bit, the Astana cyclist opened his margin wider and wider until finally establishing his dominance late in the event.

Nibali’s most important stage came in the final time trial — Stage 18, a 20km uphill solo ride against the clock. Coming into the stage, the Italian racer held a lead of nearly 90 seconds, but by the finish of the stage, he’d rewritten the standings.

Not only had Nibali carved out a lead now measured in minutes, not seconds, but it was his first stage win of the event, an important symbol of his abilities. Nibali took hold of the confidence from both winning the stage and extending his lead, and never looked back.

A day later, the previously altered Stage 19 was cancelled due to heavy snowfall on the mountain roads snaking through the Dolomites. Stage 20 was rerouted as well, in a failed attempt to find a way around the bad weather higher up the mountains. Nibali crossed the finish in first place, in a blizzard.

In a race where the course was meant to offer options for different kinds of riders, Nibali excelled in all circumstances. In showing no weakness, Nibali closed the door on his rivals. Two crashes on Stage 7 could have cost him everything, but the Italian pedalled through the pain to continue.

Having an Italian win the Giro has come at an important time for Italian cycling. None of the best Italians competing in Grand Tours ride for Italian teams, a sore spot for a nation where cycling is rightfully among the most cherished of sports.

Danilo Di Luca’s firing from the Vini Fantini-Selle Italia squad after failing a doping test has put an uncomfortable light on both Italian cycling and professional racing as a whole. Though his team and the rest of the peloton have quickly moved to condemn Di Luca, the news was an unfortunate reminder of a dark and all-too-recent past for the sport.

A late entry for the Giro d’Italia, Australian Cadel Evans looked best positioned to challenge Nibali for victory. But after a self-described “abysmal” ride in the time trial, the BMC racer had barely held on to his second place overall. Two days later, on the penultimate stage of the Giro, a technical problem dropped the 2011 Tour de France winner to third. Finishing the stage in the falling snow, he went silently to the team van to warm up before speaking about the problems he encountered.

Evans’ struggles left a gap for Rigoberto Uran, who moved into second overall on the second last day of the Giro, which he held through the final stage. The result marks the first time any Colombian rider has finished on the podium of Italy’s most prestigious cycling race.

Combined with the young rider’s classification being won by countryman Carlos Betancur, there look to be bright days ahead for the Colombian cycling program. In fact, following the finale in Brescia, the South American nation has moved to the top spot in the UCI World Tour nations standings, ahead of powerhouses Italy, Spain and Great Britain.

Sprinter Mark Cavendish achieved his goal of claiming the red jersey indicating the winner of the points competition, but it wasn’t without drama. Unexpectedly, the Manxman stayed in red after the final time trial when rival Evans failed to perform. Nibali proved so dominant that by the final stage, he too could have challenged Cavendish for the red.

Confusion after a change in the final stage saw Omega Pharma Quick Step lead Cavendish out for two unnecessary sprints, needlessly tiring both the sprinter and his team. The tight final circuit in Brescia quickened the pace as the peloton blasted through narrow streets, using every inch of the narrow roads. Cavendish sprinted against Sacha Modolo to win his fifth stage victory, edging Modolo by a bike length.

Cavendish has become one of the very few cyclists to have won the points jersey in all three Grand Tours — the Giro, Tour de France and the Vuelta a España.

Just over a month remains until the start of the 100th Tour de France, giving racers a quick chance to rest and recover before preparing for the famed French race.


But for now, the attention remains in Brescia, Italy as the city is covered in pink confetti and a nation celebrates a new hero.

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