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Monday, 30 May 2016

TO BE OR NOT TO BE - THE NIBALI HYPOTHESIS

Nibali won his second Giro d'Italia in what has been hailed as one of the best last minute surges since... well, probably Flandis at the Tour. Or was it?
The element of suspicion for any winner is high. Social media are quick to analyse a victory in every detail and from any stance. Years of cheaters draw inevitable conclusions from many sides.
Nibali, up until stage 17, was apparently under the weather, thus under-performing. This brought on speculation on the negative effects of changing crank length so close to a GT and so late in a career. But Merckx did the same, although I believe he went for shorter cranks rather than longer ones like Nibali's. Then the Italian was taken to see team doctors and after that he started performing at his best. Astana does come with a heavy baggage of doping offences, including its own manager Vinokourov, so it was easy enough to finger point to a darker side of that sudden burst of energy.

Nobody would have put money on the Italian winning the Giro with four stages to go and 4'43" from the pink jersey, Kruijswijk. He had not been on form and the Dutchman seemed stronger than ever, still attacking while in the pink. Then stage 19 happened and Kruijswijk made an untimely mistake, hitting a wall of hard snow, somersaulting in a bike-rider explosion. He lost time, a lot, but that wasn't the whole problem, he had plenty of time as a cushion, but he had to ride with a fractured rib and pain all over.
This is where Nibali started to show his mettle.
Or as speculations go, where whatever the doctor gave him started to kick in.
A matter of interpretation.
From then on there are several ways to look at his win. Take Kruijswijk out of the equation and by the end of stage 18 Nibali had gained 48" on Chaves, now in pink (great but not exactly epic). With 55" to chase on the last mountain stage, he was stronger than the diminutive Colombian, and with all respect to Chaves, he is no Contador or Froome, at least not yet. The deed was done, Nibali attacked and finished 52" ahead of Chaves, thus going faster by less than 2', again not exactly unbelievable given the different past records of the two riders.

Nibali has many fans. One reason is his style. His style is very dramatic and visible. When he attacks he goes all out in sudden bursts of speed; when he descends, he sways a lot and throws his bike about. His attacks are not often successful, he rarely drops riders in the descents. But occasionally he succeeds and that is what the fans remember, because they are clearly memorable moments.
So when he attacked Chaves in the last two stages he looked like the invincible rider so loved in sympathetic media, while actually, like for the 2014 Tour de France, he was winning against lesser gods. But you have to be in it to win it, and you have to stay up and cross the line first. That he certainly did.

Why and how will be speculation from one side and praise from the other.
When Chaves's parents went to congratulate him at the finish line of stage 20, some would be forgiven to think they were thanking Astana for their suddenly inflated pension funds, or for taking their son over to Bahrain next year on a rich contract.
The reality being somewhat different, they are genuinely and refreshingly nice people congratulating Nibali on his fair fight with their son.
Or was it?

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