The Sicilian admitted his only concern in the eight-kilometre effort against the clock ending up the San Luca climb came when the fans came too close to the Bahrain-Merida leader, who finished third, 23 seconds off the pace set by Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma).
Speaking to reporters on a sun-kissed Piazza VIII Agosto, the 34-year-old, who is hoping to win a third Giro title after prevailing in 2013 and 2016, said: “I liked having people cheering me on, but it was also a bit scary when the road became narrower. I tried to stay in the middle.
“It was a very difficult time trial but we knew the course very well, especially the (2km) climb because we did it many times during the Giro d’Emilia. The time is good but Roglic really killed it.”
Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) finished between Nibali and Roglic after conceding 19 seconds to the stage winner.
After saying earlier in the run-up to the race start that his rivals should be scared of him, Yates was reminded by Nibali that he should show more respect.
“It’s been a long time since a rider has been so over the top. But of course, if he wins the race, I’ll do him the honours he deserves,” Nibali said before Yates had crossed the line. “That being said I think he could show more respect to his rivals."
Yates defended his comments saying “I respect all my rivals, I really didn’t mean to disrespect anybody.”
Nibali beat 2017 champion and former time trial world champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) by five seconds.
“He did not do great but I’m expecting him to get better as the race goes on,” Nibali said.
“I was good today, but on the Giro, you have to be cautious because if you’re not it can backfire.
“Let’s keep our feet on the ground. What Roglic did today makes me think he will be one of my main rivals but you can’t let your guard down and must respect everybody.”