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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) is still in the hunt for an overall podium finish.
Sicilian's reference was Evans
Such were Vincenzo Nibali's efforts in the Tour de France's first long time trial at Besançon on Monday that it took him over an hour and a half to produce a sample for doping control. When the Liquigas-Cannondale rider emerged sheepishly from the anti-doping cabin shortly after 7pm, he was greeted with ironic applause by the small group of reporters who awaited him.
"After such a short and violent effort like that it can be very difficult, it's lot easier after a five hour stage," Nibali said with an apologetic grin, as he sat aboard his time trial bike and began to pedal slowly towards his team car.
Nibali finished the stage in 8th place, 2:07 down on the winner Bradley Wiggins (Sky), and it was difficult to tell if his glass was half full or half empty. While there was a sense of deflation at the deficit to the Sky pair of Wiggins and Chris Froome, Nibali could take consolation from the fact that he limited his losses to Cadel Evans (BMC) to just 24 seconds.
"They were telling me in my earpiece that I was matching Evans' times, so I knew I was going very well," Nibali said. "I knew I was losing something on Wiggins, and Froome went well too so now I'm two minutes down on GC, but I defended myself as best I could."
On an exacting course that required riders to dose their efforts accordingly, Nibali believed that his calculations had been spot on. He paced himself against Cadel Evans, and was even five seconds up on the Australian at the opening time check.
"In the first part of the course, I didn't exaggerate too much," he said. "There was a long climb and I managed myself well, especially on the second part of the climb. I was looking to go as steady as I could so I would have something in the finale because you had long straights and some wind.
"I went well but I still lost time to the specialists, although the only two who really did a great time trial today were Wiggins and Froome."
As the Tour enters its first rest day, Nibali must now ponder the conundrum of how to make up an overall deficit of 2:43 on Wiggins, who has seemed impregnable ever since his Sky team razed much of the peloton on the climb to La Planche des Belles Filles on Saturday.
The Sicilian believes that the key to troubling Wiggins will be to separate him from his teammates in the mountains, and he believed he had spied some gaps in their repertoire on Sunday's stage to Porrentruy.
"Sky have ridden very well in this first part of the race, but there are a lot of mountain stages to come," he said. "Evans has to attack, and so do I. The terrain is there, so we'll see day by day.
"We saw yesterday that Sky suffered a little bit and there were only two of them left after the final climb. We need to continue along those lines so that we can have a scenario where it's just us GC riders who are fighting it out."
Apropos of GC riders, Chris Froome's performance elevates him to 3rd overall, 2:07 off Wiggins' yellow jersey, and Nibali wondered how his position would influence Sky's approach when the race resumes on Wednesday.
"We'll have to see if Froome sacrifices himself for Wiggins or if they'll both look to stay up in the classification," he said. "In the high mountain stages, you need all your men if you want to keep the yellow jersey."
After finishing second in the Vuelta a España in 2011, it would be understandable if Froome harboured ambitions of standing on the podium in Paris himself, even if the team hierarchy seems abundantly clear. Would an internal struggle help Nibali's chances of upsetting the odds?
"We'll have to see how they want to plan the race," he said. "They certainly did a great time trial, but Wiggins showed he had something more today. Although, the other day on the climb, Froome showed that he had a little bit more, so we'll have to see how they and Sky manage themselves."