Vuelta a Espana

Nibali refuses to give up Vuelta fight

Vincenzo Nibali was nearly 2 minutes behind race leader Chris Froome entering Wednesday's stage 17, but he's hopeful he can close the gap.

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) refuses to accept second overall, saying chances remain to overthrow Vuelta a España leader Chris Froome (Sky) in the upcoming mountain stages.

Nibali rode an impressive time trial Tuesday in Logroño, Spain, but lost another 57 seconds to Froome. Wearing the race leader’s red kit, Froome won the stage 16 TT and stretched his lead to 1:58 over Nibali and 2:40 over Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb).

“Ask me another question!” Nibali responded when asked if he was satisfied with the day.

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This is “The Shark” that overthrew Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) on the final mountain stage of the 2016 Giro d’Italia, when he had been written off by many critics, to win his second Giro title. He is not satisfied sitting in second at this Vuelta even if he is up against a strong Sky team with its four-time Tour de France champion Froome.

Nibali was always going to lose time in the Logroño time trial. However, the next four mountain stages suit his aggressive style. They will have to because the race ends Sunday in Madrid.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “The whole week to come is demanding. Sky is showing to be a strong team, but let’s see. Let’s see what will happen.”

Nibali looked ahead. Of the four stages coming up, he likes Wednesday’s to Machucos and Saturday’s to Angliru because the gradients are so steep that Froome won’t be able to rely on his teammates to pace him. Nibali says it becomes more of a head-to-head fight among the general classification stars.

Froome called the Machucos’s goat track-like finish “brutal, absolutely brutal,” with gradients up to 26 percent. Though dominating four editions of the Tour, he has yet to pull off a Vuelta victory. Last year, he cracked under pressure in the final week.

The next two stages, though not the big gradients and mountains, provide plenty of potential pitfalls for any rider caught sleeping at the wheel. Stage 18 finishes with a small uphill kick and stage 19 ends on a descent, which could become more pivotal depending on when and if the forecasted rain arrives.

“You truly need something special,” Nibali said when asked how he can break the Sky fortress.

“Maybe something will happen during the race where we’re able to put the team in trouble. It’s going to be difficult, but these are stages where I have a shot.”