PLA D’ADET, France (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) appears to be playing with his rivals in the Tour de France, as if he were a cat playing with mice. He let them attack on the road to the Pla d’Adet ski station Wednesday, but that was it. When he wanted, he attacked, rode clear, and added more time to his lead.
“I didn’t try to push it up until the end,” Nibali said. “I didn’t ever give it all. I didn’t need to.”
Nibali won the stage to Sheffield on day two to take the yellow jersey and motored over the fifth day’s pavé sectors to add to his lead. Those days appeared to be the only stages where he needed to give it his all. The other days, like on Wednesday’s 10.2km climb to Pla d’Adet, his motor seemed to rev far below the red line.
The Sicilian known as “The Shark” let Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) attack to weaken Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). He followed and made a move of his own. Seemingly playing with his rivals, he appeared to slow and let them catch on. He then went for the kill, closing his jaws and biting hard.
The damage, even with the Italian riding within himself, was evident under the sun at 5,511 feet. Nibali gained 49 seconds on Valverde and 54 on Pinot, his two closest rivals, respectively, in the GC.
Heading into Thursday’s stage to Hautacam, the last mountain stage of the 2014 Tour, Nibali leads Valverde by 5:26 — a comfortable buffer that affords him an easier ride over the two HC climbs.
“I’m happy that my legs are responding well. I feel well,” Nibali said, wrapped in his 15th yellow jersey of the Tour.
“I have to think about taking those important seconds when I can. I may have an off-day or a crisis, you just don’t know, so it’s good to have the time. I will only be able to say that I won when I’m in Paris.”
Nibali may not have been able to play with his rivals had Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) still been in the race. Nibali took the yellow jersey on day two, but it was not until Froome abandoned in stage five and Contador withdrew from stage 10 that it began to look secure on his shoulders.
“If Chris Froome or Alberto Contador were here, I’d have to push myself a lot more, for sure,” Nibali added. “For sure, it’s a different race now. Froome and Contador, when they attack, they are very explosive so you have to be very attentive.”
Astana appears happy with how Nibali is racing towards Paris. The feeling is one of celebration, even if the race is not yet complete. Every day at the bus, the number of team supporters and helpers in the team’s distinctive turquoise appears to be larger.
“If he keeps doing what he does, just remaining covered and behind riders until he needs to strike out on his own, then he will be fine,” team trainer Paolo Slongo said.
“Even attacking and gaining seconds is not taking too much toll on his motor, he should be able to carry the load all the way to Paris.”