CHAMBRAI, France (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana teammates hoped they could use the cobbles of Northern France to destroy the Tour like they did last year, but they left the fourth stage looking for new ideas.
Nibali attacked repeatedly on the cobble sectors leading to Chambrai. But despite his accelerations and bike-handling skills, he couldn’t quite crack his rivals and claw back some of the time he has lost to them so far. Where he gained a full 2:35 on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) last year, he finished Tuesday’s dry and dusty stage alongside the other GC favorites, with nothing to show for his efforts.
“I tried,” he said in the mixed zone after claiming the prize for most combative rider on the day. “I couldn’t do any more.”
Chris Froome (Sky) still leads the GC contenders, with 13 seconds on American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), 36 on Contador, 1:38 on Nibali, and 1:56 on Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
In 2014, when rain made the cobbled sectors especially treacherous, Nibali used his notable bike handling skills to take control of the race. “This year, the weather was different,” he said. “With rain, the differences would have been bigger. All the classification favorites defended themselves well.”
Astana certainly tried to set things up for the Italian champion. The team sent Lieuwe Westra in an early escape and drove the group with Lars Boom and Jakob Fuglsang. “The team worked, I began every sector at the front, but it just wasn’t to be,” added Nibali.
“The pavé and the day was different this year,” team manager Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews. “With this weather it was difficult to make the difference … And the teams were better-prepared. We couldn’t pull off the surprise that we did last year.”
The next few days will offer Nibali few opportunities to make up the time he has lost so far — mainly after getting caught behind the split that defined stage 2. Aside from the short Mûr de Bretagne at the end stage 8, the route is flat up through the team time trial for stage 9. That test will be Astana’s best chance to make a difference before Monday’s rest day. Over a similar distance at the Critérium du Dauphiné last month, Nibali and his companions finished four seconds behind BMC and gained time on everyone else, including 31 seconds on Froome and Team Sky.
After the first rest day come the high mountains of the Pyrenees and the Alps, which will offer Nibali’s best chance to make up significant time. With so many legitimate rivals this year, he knows he’ll have to make the most of his opportunities.
“It’s not easy to recover the loss that I have,” he said.