CHOLET, France (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali just squeaked by in the team time trial of the Tour de France on Monday. The Sicilian rode to the finish line with three of his Bahrain-Merida teammates — the minimum needed — and enough to put them at one minute back from the favorites.
Nibali’s team planned on losing somewhere around one minute in the worst case even though his team has been working hard on time trials with bike manufacturer Merida.
“We are not great specialists. Maybe it could have gone worse for us, we tried to save the time that we could save,” Nibali said.
Mitchelton-Scott with Adam Yates lost nine seconds. Team Sunweb lost 11 seconds to BMC Racing. Nibali’s team was near the other leaders including Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Movistar’s Mikel Landa, Alejandro Valverde, and Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Daniel Martin (UAE Team Emirates).
“Compared to others like Bardet, it didn’t go that bad,” Nibali said. “Zakarin and Fuglsang were there, Martin too. So OK, Froome, who had an incident the first stage with Yates and Porte … We tried to defend as well as possible. I’m good, though, that’s important, and we’ll go ahead.”
Bahrain averaged 53.428kph over the 35.5 kilometers west of Cholet in Vendée. The effort became worse when Kristjan Koren and Heinrich Haussler dropped off early. Sonny Colbrelli and Franco Pellizotti continued until the final 10 kilometers or so. Then, Nibali was left with three small climbers Gorka and Ion Izagirre, and Domenico Pozzovivo.
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“Nibali was strong, but he could have gone slower for the others,” said sports director Rik Verbrugghe. “The good news is that he’s strong, though.”
“We lost Koren and Haussler early, they could have been there to help in the second part, but we are there in the range that we thought for the day,” added sports director Paolo Slongo.
“The four kept going until the end, doing what they could. That is what we thought more or less from the start. It wasn’t an off-day, but we just limited the losses and that was limited for those riders.”
The team could still improve but it may not be until 2019 that the step forward in team time trials is made. Bahrain-Merida is expected to hire time trial ace Australian Rohan Dennis from BMC Racing for next year. He won the Giro d’Italia’s long time trial and is a former hour record holder.
Nibali, the 2014 Tour winner, is still within range and may take back time on the coming Roubaix stage on Sunday and the mountains to follow.
“In a big stage race, you see many times that you need patience all the way until the end because you don’t know what will happen,” Nibali added.
“You have to live it day by day. Look at the Giro d’Italia, it changed quickly. Also in the other Giro editions beforehand.
“This Tour is a hard one, there are many riders here aiming for the overall and something changes every day.”