One need only cast their minds back eleven years ago to support the overused TV commentator’s phrase that 'anything can happen’. But as Anthony Tan writes, for the podium to be redefined four days from the finish, logic, caution and reason must be thrown out the back door.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM


The most interest in terms of racing is going to be amongst the fourth to tenth players. They'll be the ones squabbling over the seconds, chasing each other down and one of those moves might just be the catalyst that Nibali is waiting for to show just how superior he is.

Before the final time trial and the arguably the two most difficult mountain stages in this year's Giro d'Italia, it seems the canny Scotsman reckons the podium is just about set in stone, with the scrap for minor placings where he predicts most change.

It's a big call. Because maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali needs to have just one bad day in the Dolomites and he could lose five minutes. Or ten. Or fifteen.

With just four days to go, think it impossible? Then cast your minds back eleven years to the 85th edition of the Giro, in 2002.

At the start of the seventeenth stage in Corvara in Badia, second-year pro Cadel Evans was sitting pretty in pink, having wrested the maglia rosa from German Jens Heppner the day previous, on the hardest stage of race. He didn't go in as leader – Stefano Garzelli was Mapei's main man – but with Garzelli out, he became one by consequence.

Evans, then 25 years young, looked okay for much of the stage. But with 213 of 222 kilometres covered, on the final climb of the day to Folgaria, things began to unravel.

Russian Pavel Tonkov was already away and en route to victory on the nineteen-kilometre ascent. Italy's Paolo Savoldelli, 48 seconds off the lead at the start of the day, sensed Evans was fallible and together with American Tyler Hamilton, began their path of destruction that would see the Australian implode in a matter of metres.

By day's end, Cadel had finished over seventeen minutes behind Tonkov and a flat fifteen behind new race leader Savoldelli, who would go on to win the first of his two Giri. Said Evans' since-departed trainer doctor Aldo Sassi the day it happened, "Cadel hasn't really prepared for a three week race; he was supposed to peak for (Tour of) Romandie and help Garzelli at the Giro."

"The Giro in 2002, it was my first year on the road full-time; I was racing pretty much as a neo-professional, and had the leader's jersey in the last week of the Giro. Not many neo-professionals do that in their first three-week Tour," Evans told me in an interview in January 2010.

"And the main thing that led to my collapse was I was crossing over from another sport. I was changing my physique, but I also had to work so hard in the off-season from being a mountain-biker to being a road rider. We're talking top-level world championships, World Cup mountain bike to three-week tours; it's a pretty big, extreme step to take.

"And I had to work so hard over October, November and December to change my physiology – which you can't do in three months anyway but you can make some change. That probably also cost me a lot in that Giro. That (change of training) served me all the races up to that Giro, and all the way up to that last climb… (I got) pretty close (to winning)."

The big difference this time, however, is that Nibali is not a first- or second-year pro. 2013 is his ninth season. He already has one Grand Tour (the 2010 Vuelta a España) to his name. He finished second in the 2011 Giro. And despite finishing third at last year's Tour de France, he decided to focus only on the Giro and world road championships this season.

Team-mate Tangel Kangert aside, he could be a little better supported in the mountains, but Nibali has nevertheless looked impregnable. "In the big mountains it looks like Nibali will be the one deciding the selection process; I get the feeling that if Evans or Uran can't follow his first acceleration then he'll open up the taps and be gone," Millar predicted in his blog on Cyclingnews.com.

Foreshadowed the sage Scotsman, who finished second in the 1987 Giro behind Stephen Roche: "Like at Jafferau (Stage 14) when (Mauro) Santambrogio survived and became an ally for the moment, anything similar to that on the next summit finishes and we could see something spectacular."

An innocuous sixteenth stage put Evans' former BMC Racing teammate Santambrogio out of contention – the day after a rest day often sees at least one GC contender knocked out – leaving only three riders within three minutes: Nibali, Evans and Urán.

Four days from the finale in Brescia, and from what we've witnessed so far, it would be folly to bank on Nibali having an off day. Thursday's 20.6km mountain time trial is unlikely to turn the leadership upside down, but, notwithstanding likely course changes due to foul weather, Friday and Saturday?

Hell, yeah.

The question is this: do Evans and Urán simply want to preserve their place on the podium – which would be a perfectly logical, perfectly cautious, and perfectly reasonable objective – the former would become the first Australian to podium in all three Grand Tours – or are they prepared to throw logic, caution and reason out the window?

Or will 'Lo Squalo di Messina' (The Shark of Messina) "turn on the taps" as Millar suggests, and further stamp his authority in a marathon race of attrition where he has already been head and shoulders above the rest?