Giro d’Italia 2010, Stage 14: Inspirational ride from Nibali

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A slight rejiggering of the leader board in the Giro d’Italia today as Spaniard David Arroyo (GCE), a climbing ace, took the pink jersey by joining a breakaway climb in the first of a week of brutal mountain stages.

But what made today’s stage a joy to watch wasn’t the climbing. It was the descent of Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), who gained more than half a minute on his three breakaway companions in a smoking descent to Cesenatico.

To gain 30 seconds in a descent is a resounding testament to bike handling skills, especially when the group behind includes Cadel Evans, a former mountain bike world champion whose descending skills take a back seat to no one. On screaming hairpins and negative-banked curves, Nibali’s ability to lean his shoulder into the turn, brake at just the right moment and accelerate out was a joy to behold.

If sports is a game of inches, Nibali played the twisty route down perfect. He set up hairpins smoothly, effortlessly and expertly by riding outside/inside, cut corners to the bone and blew out of the exit full bore. Compare his form to, say, Vinokourov (who lost time on the descent) and you get the idea.

Arroyo took the pink jersey from Riche Porte of Saxo Bank, but the focus in coming days won’t be on either rider. The jockeying for the win of this, one of the most exciting, unpredictable and challenging Grand Tours in memory, will come down to Evans, Alexander Vinokourov, Ivan Basso and his teammate Nibali and perhaps a couple of other riders such as Carlos Sastre (CTT) and Bradley Wiggins (SKY).

Tomorrow’s stage, whose profile resembles the stock market over the past week, should provide some killer racing. One almost feels sorry for the Amgen Tour of California — with Lance out of the picture and only tomorrow’s finishing stage to come, it feels like a weak sister up against this year’s Giro.

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