Any hope Vincenzo Nibali had of derailing Chris Froome’s steady advance towards victory in the Vuelta a España suffered a major setback Saturday when he crashed and was injured on the descent of the Cordal during stage 20.
TV imagery showed the Bahrain-Merida leader, second overall and the winner of an early stage in Andorra, trailing behind the leader's group shortly after they had crossed the summit.
It later emerged that he had crashed and had been injured on the notoriously tricky drop off the first category climb that directly precedes the Angliru. The 2010 Vuelta winner could continue, but given Nibali’s reputation of an excellent descender, it indirectly confirmed just how technical and dangerous the descent was.
“It’s a shame for the sliding in the curve,” Nibali said in a statement released by the team. “It was raining and the road was dirty and slippery. Until then we did a great race, but then I had to defend myself on last climb. I’m glad I was able to defend my second place.”
Nibali put his team-mate Franco Pellizotti to work on the front on the lower slopes of the Angliru, but on the steepest sections of the climb, with around three kilometres to go, the Italian cracked and could not follow Froome’s pace with Team Sky.
The Bahrain-Merida rider kept a steady enough rhythm to cross the line in sixth place, paced in the final kilometre by Pelizzotti again to come home 51 seconds back on Contador. His second place on the podium was therefore intact, but any chance of toppling Froome finally evaporated.
"My teammates have done a wonderful job,” Nibali said in the team statement. “But I must thank Franco Pellizotti in particular. Without him and with the strong pain on my left side I do not know if I would arrive with the best at the finish line at the top of Angliru.”
Nibali did not talk to reporters at the finish and was walking stiffly, but he later Tweeted an update on the extent of his injuries.
"Hi everyone,” he wrote. “Wanted to let you know about my condition after the crash. I've got some cuts and bruises and a rib hurts! But i'm going to dig in, suffer tomorrow (to make it to the finish in Madrid)."