• Pulled out a pink rabbit from his hat... Vincenzo Nibali. (RCS Sport)Source: RCS Sport
The 99th edition of La Corsa Rosa was everything we expected and more. Before the peloton reaches the finish line in Turin, Anthony Tan has his parting words.
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Cycling Central
29 May 2016 - 5:45 PM  UPDATED 29 May 2016 - 9:13 PM

Turns out there was one final twist. A twist of the knife, that is.

You have to go back 16 years to find a Giro d'Italia leader dethroned on the penultimate stage (at the 2000 Giro, Stefano Garzelli overthrew Francesco Casagrande after an individual time trial to Sestriere), then another 47 years before that, when Fausto Coppi triumphed over Hugo Koblet in 1953.

And, for only the second time in history the race lead changed hands three times in the last four stages; the first was 103 years ago, in the Giro of 1913. Further emphasising the unpredictability were the eight different leaders in this 99th edition of La Corsa Rosa - again, only the second time this has happened.

"Do we nonchalantly strike a line through Nibali and the rest of his cohort by virtue of association?"

Even team-mate Jakob Fulgsang thought his fearless leader a goner after the stage to Andalo won by Alejandro Valverde - the third successive stage where Vincenzo Nibali performed below par, and which saw him drop to fourth overall, 4'43 down on Steven Kruijswijk with five days remaining. Till last Friday, the third-to-last stage, the Dane was planning to go for a stage win to salvage Astana's disastrous Giro to date.

Between Andalo and the start of Stage 19 to Risoul, Nibali flew in his acupuncturist from Belgium, as well as got some blood tests done (confirming there was nothing wrong with him), which appeared to act as the catalyst for a near-miraculous turnaround of both his mental and physical state.

Nibali could not have timed his run any better. Or later, for that matter, as it wasn't till inside the final five kilometres of the Colle della Lombarda that produced his final, Giro-winning attack, immediately dropping overnight leader Esteban Chaves. Even before then - as much as the day before, in fact - the Colombian never really looked like our Giro champion, his "brutta faccia", as the Italians say, or ugly face, contorted by the pain of multiple shark bites transmogrifying the Smiling Assassin into a grimaced one.

Naturally, doping suspicions have arisen in the wake of Nibali's reversal of form and fortune, and, given the sport's history, understandably so. The Sicilian aside, however, this was not the cream of the crop in terms of Grand Tour talent: missing were Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador, to name a few, and their absence thus gave this Giro a comparatively weaker field than the one we will see in July. Okay, the team's general manager Alexandre Vinokourov is an unrepentant doper and the team manager and team doctor were also Marco Pantani's team manager and team doctor - but do we nonchalantly strike a line through Nibali and the rest of his cohort by virtue of association? I would argue that his inconsistency, as well as that of others, is a sign of a cleaner peloton; it seems far more natural to have good and bad days than be Armstrong-esque throughout a 3,500km, near 90-hour journey in the saddle.

Could Orica-GreenEDGE have done with another climber or two, and would it have made a difference?

Yes and no, because Chaves 'only' needed to follow Nibali on Friday to Risoul and the stage following; yesterday to Sant'Anna di Vinadio, even with the assistance of countryman Rigoberto Uran, he wasn't able to do that. Esteban was a spent force, and for the second consecutive occasion in a Grand Tour the 26-year-old was undone at the hands of a rider from Astana. As he said: "I don't want to make any excuses because we gave it everything. I didn't have the legs and that's how it happened when I got dropped." Simply put, he was up against a formidable opponent with far more experience. Aside from last year's Vuelta a España where he was kicked out for holding onto a car, Nibali has finished all 14 other Grand Tours he's ridden; by contrast, this Giro is Chaves' fourth three week race and he is yet to ride the Tour - a race Nibali has completed five times and won. There is no shame in second.

Modest words also came from Kruijswijk, who began the race with a 125-1 shot of winning and almost pulled it off. "Staying on your bike is also cycling," he said moments after crossing the line in Sant'Anna di Vinadio, "and that's what I lacked yesterday." What have you learned about this Giro? "It ain't over till it's over... and you saw it's a fight to the last day." Given the immense courage displayed it was cruel to finish off the final podium, but we have learned more than once in this race that cycling isn't always fair. He'll be back, as will Valverde, the man who robbed him of his third place overall with the sort of measured performance we've come to expect of the Spaniard in Grand Tours.

The 36-year-old lost three minutes to Chaves and Kruiswijk and 2'23 to Nibali on the stage to Corvara. Take out that day and he would've won. Next year, Alejandro, forget the Ardennes Classics, go to altitude for a month, then go to the Giro.