Vincenzo Nibali left Mikel Nieve in his wake on...

Vincenzo Nibali: The man, without question

Vincenzo Nibali has now won four road stages at this Tour de France — not typical in the modern era for GC riders

ARGELÈS-GAZOST, France (VN) — In case it wasn’t clear enough who the man was at this Tour, Vincenzo Nibali reminded everyone just one more time, with his brash stage win up Hautacam Thursday.

He surged at about 9.5 kilometers to go up the Hautacam, marking Chris Horner (Lampre-Merdia). He soon dropped the American, who beat Nibali to win last year’s Vuelta a España, and then rode right through Sky’s Mikel Nieve, the lone survivor of the break. Nibali was alone off the front again, beating the general classification into a daze yet again. He won the day by 1:10.

Nibali has now won four road stages at this Tour de France — not typical in the modern era for GC riders. Greedy? Maybe. But dominant? Absolutely. Nibali now leads the general classification by more than seven minutes over Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), and it’s less a question of if he wins this Tour but rather if he wins by 10 minutes. Nibali has always attacked, and a great deal of the time in vain. He criticizes riders for racing for placing and points instead of wins. He is emotional on the bike, even if his face doesn’t show it. In many ways, this Tour shouldn’t be a surprise at all. He’s a one-day racer, every single day.

“My goal was to win a stage today,” Nibali said. “I didn’t have an idea to do what Merckx did, but it was just important to win to finish off the team’s work in this Tour. This win is dedicated to them.”

Astana manager Giuseppe Martinelli said his ace was eyeing Hautacam all along. For the stage, and for the exclamation point he was seeking.

“The day before yesterday, Nibali said he was doing good. He started thinking about the finish to Hautacam. He wanted to finish the Tour with some panache. You could see in his face he really wanted it,” Martinelli said.

Nibali is good enough to take what he wants here, notably without Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Chris Froome (Sky), who both abandoned. Maybe Nibali is racing against ghosts in a sense, but he’s riding as well as anyone at the Tour can, and in a way others haven’t dared.

“Of course he would [want Contador to be here]. He would have been at that level. We’re never gonna know,” Martinelli said. “Let’s not forget that Vincenzo came here in great condition. It definitely would have been a different race, but at the same time, cycling in Italy is becoming very strong and loved again.”

That may be to do with its daring champion, the Shark of Messina. His panache, as it’s known throughout the sport, is unchecked and unrivaled.

“Vincenzo is a real champion. He has done an extraordinary Tour. Won the last mountain stage with a huge demonstration of strength,” teammate Michele Scarponi said. “We try to put him in the best place to win, and let’s say mission accomplished.”

For Nibali, it’s yet another confirmation he belongs at the sport’s apex. After Giro and Vuelta wins, France was the box unchecked. He finished third in 2012 to Bradley Wiggins and Froome, and skipped the Tour last summer, after winning the Giro. He took second in last year’s Vuelta. It’s coming easy now, and it’s easy to see it.

“I had fun in this Tour. Two years ago it was different,” Nibali said. “Already in the first stages, I was able to get a gap, also on the pavé stage. I’m honest, two minutes is not easy to gain on a stage like that. Even if Froome didn’t have problems, it would have been hard for him to survive that day. I showed to have optimal condition, from the start to the end. I aimed for the Tour, many others wanted to show that they could go strongly in other races, like Froome in Romandie, or Froome and Contador in the Dauphiné. This is energy that you can lose. My goal was always the Tour.”