Vincenzo Nibali's fishing expedition at Giro d'Italia exposes Ineos' flaws - a warning for Egan Bernal
Vincenzo Nibali’s attack on the final descent of Stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia exposed the one major chink in the Ineos Grenadier armour: their desire for total control. Seven seconds and a few cuts and bruises to Gianni Moscon’s skin (and ego) were ultimately the only setbacks – but it was a timely reminder of the potential pitfalls that lie ahead in Egan Bernal’s quest for pink.
‘Stupid thing to do’ – Moscon crashes while chasing Nibali
Where Nibali could have once won a stage, even an entire Grand Tour, with such a spirited attack, this piece of downhill dexterity from one of the peloton’s masters of descending saw him rise one place to 13th in the standings, still over four minutes down on the Colombian.
The otherwise excellent Moscon had already done his job earlier on the Passo del Carnaio after Nibali joined teammate Giulio Ciccone up the road after the Trek duo put in a questioning one-two on the fourth and final climb of the day. It was Moscon who bridged over on the brief downhill ledge on the climb, effectively snuffing out the threat – Ciccone, in eighth place and only 2’24” down, being very much a person of interest in the GC battle.
‘You can count on the Shark’ – Nibali and Trek-Segafredo spice up Stage 12
That should have been that. Job well done. But then Nibali couldn’t resist testing the ego of the same rider and same team minutes later on the descent with, as Rob Hatch put it in the virtual Eurosport commentary booth, “a banging of the fists on the table” to remind everyone that he’s still there and can still be a danger.
Everyone knows about Nibali’s downhill skills – it’s perhaps the worst-kept secret in cycling. And although the two-time winner of the Giro started the stage well down on Bernal, Moscon still felt the need to do what he has been programmed to do and snuff out the threat.
Co-commenting with Hatch for Eurosport, Dan Lloyd's reaction to seeing Moscon gap even his teammates in pursuit of Nibali was telling:
I think if I was Ineos right now, I’d allow a little gap to Vincenzo Nibali. There’s no point in taking any risks down this descent, which as we’ve mentioned before is wet in places and dry in others. We know how strong Nibali is but he has started the day over four minutes down.
“While he’s not doing this hoping that someone will crash behind him, he is asking the question, ‘Are you willing to take these risks?’”
And Moscon, it seemed, was willing.
When the inevitable happened, Nibali had been vindicated. Moscon didn’t appear to be badly hurt – and he quickly jumped back on and fought back to the main group as Nibali rode home with a seven second advantage.
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But had the 27-year-old domestique suffered an injury – and let’s not forget, this was a stage which saw scores of riders abandon, including the former pink jersey Alessandro De Marchi, Stage 6 winner Gino Mader, and the Spaniard Marc Soler – then Ineos Grenadiers could have been down to six men with all the key mountain tests still to go.
That would have been catastrophic for Bernal’s push for pink – especially given Moscon’s superb performances so far, and given the earlier withdrawal of co-leader Pavel Sivakov. The Russian will be missed enough in the high mountains as it is without the absence of another key figure.
And for what? Seven seconds for a Shark who’s lost his bite – but not, clearly, his tactical awareness.
Moscon slammed for 'ridiculous amount of ego' after crashing in Nibali chase
Moscon should have known that Ineos Grenadiers have bigger fish to fry. But you can hardly blame him given the team’s apparent desire to suffocate everything and anything. From Filippo Ganna’s and Salvatore Puccio's long, almost robotic pulls on the front to Moscon's and Dani Martinez’s softening attacks to pave the way for Bernal – Ineos Grenadiers seem to have an innate need to control everything.
It’s an effective way to win a bike race. But it can also backfire. On Thursday it almost backfired. And needlessly so. Talk about picking the wrong hill to die on; Nibali's not even a hill - just, in his current condition, a mere mound. His attack on a near-meaningless descent was as predictable as the response it triggered. And for that, the veteran schemer deserves high praise.
At the end of the day, Ineos were lucky not to lose another rider; Moscon will heal up but he’ll be on the naughty step having brought about a tension from nothing. All because Nibali did what Nibali does – and one rider couldn’t resist trying to catch a former big fish but timeless champion.