The race must go on. That was the dominating sentiment this morning as the tired, cold peloton and the tired, cold race organization contemplated another 210km (131mi) with cold rain and snow forecast on the road from Silandro to Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Already the course had been changed from a sawtooth profile to a more gentle one that only pitched up to a wall in the final kilometers. What was once set to be a day long battle in the Dolomites was turned into a controlled ride to the foot of the final climb, a two-in-one bear that began on the Passo Tre Croci, and then after a brief respite, went vertical for seven kilometers.
By stacking the climbing at the end, Cannondale Pro Cycling could be all-in for Damiano Caruso. With a good result today, he could move himself up into the top twenty overall.
Even though the script was set before the stage, there were certainly dreamers trying to upset the apple cart. Today, those with big ambitions were Katusha's Pavel Brutt, Androni's Giairo Ermeti, Lotto's Adam Hansen, and RadioShack's Yaroslav Popovych. They struck out on their long march after 30km.
The four raced to a maximum lead of over eight minutes, while behind, Omega Pharma-Quickstep kept it fast so their sprinter, Mark Cavendish, could take fifth place points at the intermediate sprint and pad his lead in the Points Jersey Competition.
With 35km (22mi) remaining, with the gap at three minutes, Cannondale went to the front to set up Caruso. A few kilometers later, the rain returned. By whipping up the pace, not only did the green team eat up most of the break, but they split the peloton behind them.
As the heavy rain started turning to snow, Brutt, the last remaining escapee passed until the 20km (12.5mi) to go banner on the slopes of the Tre Croci. The peloton was disintegrating behind, and Caruso was riding away from Vincenzo Nibali's Pink Jersey group, trying to distance the favorites early.
Two kilometers later Caruso was hauled back, but he maintained pace with the leaders, riding alongside Nibali.
Up front, Brutt was losing the battle with his legs, as a chase group caught and dispatched him just before the climb to Tre Cime di Laverado began.
Onto the final steep ramp with 3.2km (2mi) remaining, Astana lead the chase for Nibali, trying to give him a launch pad for a stage victory. Caruso was still lurking just behind, looking for his opportunity.
Nibali pre-empted all the late escapes by launching his own attack with 3km (1.8mi) remaining. The move put everyone in the hurt locker, the move, which ate up the three stragglers up front, stamped the Sicilian's authority on the race. The aggression gapped Caruso, who kept his rhythm to limit losses.
Nibali kept up his pedal-crushing pace as snow fell ever-harder on the race to an impressive solo victory. The effort increased his lead on second place, the position Sky's Rigoberto Uran took over after Cadel Evans struggled on the steep slopes and slipped to third. Caruso, riding with the very best of the rest, and proving his third place in Thursday's time trial was no aberration, crossed the line in eighth place, only 58 seconds down on Nibali. This stellar finish moved him into the top twenty overall, nineteenth to be exact.
Caruso, having a great Giro after being a last-minute replacement for Ivan Basso, was buoyed by his ride. "A snowy stage is always hard but today we had to do our best for the fans. So many people on the climb, especially considering the weather, was an effort that we had to repay. It was a great show and we did all to make it special. I have to thank my teammates for the support they gave to me riding by my side. On the last climb I aimed for a good result, but be strong as Nibali was impossible, it was impossible even to follow his wheel. He showed himself be the best of this Giro. Looking to this Giro, I can be satisfied. It's a pity I didn't take a win, but I'm happy for my performance. I started this Grand Tour with some questions to myself and I had the answers I wanted. It's a new starting point to build my performances in the future."
Tomorrow, stage 21, will crown the champion of the Giro. With a flat 197km (123mi) course from Riese Pio X to Brescia, the day is set to be a stage for the sprinters. The first 163km (106mi) takes the riders to Brescia, and then the race does seven 4.2km (2.6mi) laps around Brescia. The pink jersey is not expected to change shoulders, but the sprinters who suffered through the mountains will get one final opportunity to dash ahead of the peloton. Cavendish, the leader of the Points Competition, is the favorite. But Cannondale Pro Cycling's Elia Viviani has been spoiling for an opportunity to beat the Manx Missile in head-to-head completion.
Giro d'Italia 2013
Silandro to Tre Cime di Lavaredo 210km
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team in 5:27:41
2. Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Col) Colombia at 0:00:17
3. Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:00:19
4. Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:21
5. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:44
Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
8. Damiano Caruso (Ita) 0:00:58
65. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) 0:10:47
70. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) same time
77. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) 0:11:15
91. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 0:15:07
92. Alan Marangoni (Ita) 0:15:09
117. Elia Viviani (Ita) 0:19:02
119. Cameron Wurf (Aus) same time
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 79:23:19
2. Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:04:43
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:05:52
4. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:06:48
5. Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) AG2R La Mondiale 0:07:28
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
19. Damiano Caruso (Ita) 0:30:56
67. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 2:06:15
87. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) 2:33:41
88. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 2:35:30
94. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) 2:40:29
113. Alan Marangoni (Ita) 2:59:44
114. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 3:00:03
119. Elia Viviani (Ita) 3:04:33
127. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 3:18:13