Vincenzo Nibali survived a long, nervous stage on...

Nibali aims to defend yellow jersey as Tour hits the mountains

Usually playing the role of attacking instigator, Nibali will instead assume a defensive posture as the Tour heads to the mountains

NANCY, France (VN) — Race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) will go on the defensive Saturday when the Tour de France faces its first summit finish up La Mauselaine.

“He could attack, maybe, it depends on his legs,” Astana team manger, Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews. “That’d be the best thing, but right now, we have a security buffer that allows us to race a defensive race, which is a little strange for Nibali because he’s usually one who goes out on the attack.”

Nibali tried to crack team Sky on a few occasions in the 2012 Tour and came away with third place overall. He also counts Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España overall titles in his palmares.

Further, his attacking style earned him the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico title over Froome, thanks to a daring move on the wet roads leading to Porto Sant’Elpidio. Saturday, however, he will look to the others to strike first when the Tour de France travels into the Vosges Mountains.

“The Shark” from Sicily has a healthy lead over his rivals. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), at 50 seconds, is his closest rival. Others trail from 1:45 to 3:14 behind, including two-time winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) at 2:37.

“Attack? These mountain stages are certainly going to be important for me and my yellow jersey,” Nibali said. “I have a good gap, but if there’s an opportunity to attack, I’ll attack. For sure, though, I’ll try to race on the defensive and see how it goes.”

The Saturday stage first covers the Croix des Moinats and Grosse Pierre passes and then the 1.8 kilometer climb up La Mauselaine. Nibali explained that he has never ridden the climbs, but rivals like Richie Porte (Sky) have previewed the stage in training.

“Vincenzo’s advantage gives him a bit of security, so we are going to try to play our cards well,” Martinelli continued.

“Contador’s the most dangerous, even more so than when there was Chris Froome in the race because without Froome, the responsibility completely falls on Vincenzo’s shoulders, but we are calm and relaxed. We have Jakob Fuglsang, who’s in second place and offers us an important joker.”

Like the cobblestone stage Wednesday, Saturday and Monday will be important tests for Nibali if he is to become the 2014 Tour winner. Afterwards, the peloton has rest day before racing further into the mountains.

Martinelli, however, says that the Tour de France has been a success so far. Some had criticized his rider in June, when he was still winless and suffering in the Critérium du Dauphiné, but now Nibali has the Italian road race title, a Tour stage win and for six days so far, the yellow jersey.

“The yellow jersey is a positive for us even if it’s a big responsibility. It’s a pleasure to have it,” Martinelli said. “The team knows that they are working well, and they feel in control of the situation. We have the yellow jersey and we are racing to keep it to Paris.”