Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) used the second rest day at the Vuelta a Espana to recover from the efforts of two weeks of intense racing, insisting that he still has the form to win the Vuelta, despite losing precious seconds to Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) on Monday's stage to Aramón Formigal.
The Italian leads Horner by just 28 seconds as the racing resumes on Wednesday with a flat stage from Calahorra to Burgos.
Nibali admitted he is producing between 15 and 20 watts less power than when he dominated the Giro d'Italia in May, after a more difficult preparation for the Vuelta. His Astana team is also not as strong or as experienced as in May, occasionally leaving Nibali exposed and isolated.
"The truth is that I only lost a few seconds, it's not the end of the world," he told Gazzetta dello Sport during the rest day that saw him sleep in until 11:15.
"Whatever happens, if I win or don’t win the Vuelta, this has been a great season, it's been unforgettable. And it's not over yet, there's still the worlds to come."
Nibali's relaxed but focused temperament is one of the Sicilian's strengths during Grand Tours. He lost 21 seconds to Horner and several other overall rivals but has taken the blow on the chin and is confident he will not loose further time between now and the finish in Madrid on Sunday.
"It was noting to worry about. It came after three days of hard racing in the Pyrenees, where the team had always been on the front and I'd always get to the hotel late because of the presentations, anti-doping controls and interviews. I needed to catch my breath and the second rest day was perfect," he claimed.
"I also want to point out that my form has been growing throughout the Vuelta apart from Monday. I felt great on Sunday and so I don’t think I'm fading."
Final mountain stages
Nibali and Astana can further catch their breath during the flat stage to Burgos but then it will be time to defend the red leader's jerseys in the final three mountain stages. Saturday's stage finish atop the near vertical Angliru will be decisive but Nibali is also worried about Thursday's finish at Peña Cabarga, the scene of two tremendous duels in recent years at the Vuelta. The last of them pitted Chris Froome against Juan José Cobo, with the Briton winning the day but the Spaniard holding on to win the race.
"The stage to Peña Cabarga could be the key," Nibali revealed.
"Of course I'd like to get to the Angliru with a bit more of an advantage on everyone, even if Horner's my big rival now. The Angliru will be hard for everyone, no only for me. But I go well on the hard climbs, look at the Zoncolan. I'm optimistic. I've got the red leader's jersey, not him…"