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February 18, 2012 — (VN) Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) surged to victory in the toughest stage of the Tour of Oman, winning atop the Green Mountain climb Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to take the leader’s jersey.
Nibali crossed the line 10 seconds ahead of the chasing Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step), but it was the Czech rider who slipped into the leader’s jersey, just one second ahead of the Italian.
“It’s a great feeling that I could not wait to try again. A year without a win was not easy to digest,” Nibali said. “I was conscious of having given everything and the performance can testify. Now I hope to start a run of important victories, perhaps as in 2010.”
Sunday’s 130km finale is a likely sprinter’s stage, but time bonuses open the door for Nibali to try to take the leader’s jersey away from Velits.
“I came first in Oman to better prepare for the races of March,” Nibali said. “Today’s victory makes me very happy already: But that’s obvious to see the top of the standings so close. We must invent something, but it will be very hard.”
Velits, meanwhile, was content with capturing the leader’s jersey by one second. He was 15 seconds ahead of Nibali in the general classification going into stage 5, in 13th place. Nibali was in 26th place. Nibali only beat Velits by 10 seconds on stage 5.
“It was a long race into the climbs today,” Velits said. “In the last climb Nibali attacked. I tried to jump on his wheel, but I wasn’t able
to catch him. I kept my pace in the middle between Nibali and the group that was behind me. I could try to stay with him. Maybe I made a little mistake at that point, but I was waiting for the reaction of the group. When I realized that nobody was able to react I gave everything, thinking about the GC. The distance between me and Nibali remained the same, but we gained time on the chasing group.
“When I crossed the line it was fantastic to hear that I’d taken the red jersey. Last time that I had a leader jersey on my shoulders it was five years ago. I was riding in South Africa at that time. Actually this is the first leader jersey of my career. I’m over the moon,”
Velits continued. “The work we’ve done during the winter is repaying us now. Also today the team was fantastic and they really went for me during the stage. I’m really proud of our race. Tomorrow the race will finish in a circuit. I hope that nothing big is going to happen. We will see.”