At the start in Indicatore the Tour de France winner had seemed relaxed and ready for the weekend of decisive racing in the hills and especially Sunday’s mountain finish at Terminillo. However after finishing in a second chase group behind stage winner and new race leader Wouter Poels (Team Sky), and after losing seven seconds to Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and other key rivals, he was in no mood to talk.
The Astana team closed ranks around its leader, trying to put a positive spin on what had been a bad day out in the Apennine hills. There was no specific explanation or reason why Nibali lost seven seconds to Contador or why he was left isolated by his teammates on the final climb and the descent to the finish in Castelraimondo.
Poels won alone after an impressive solo attack. There were 17 riders in the front chase group, including Contador, Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Britain’s Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) and Daniel Martin (Cannondale-Garmin). Sebastian Reichenbach (IAM Cycling) was the last in the group.
Nibali finished seven seconds further back in a second chase group after being distanced over the top of the climb. There were reports that he had needed mechanical service on the descent but he didn’t seem to have punctured. The explanation from the Astana team is that Nibali’s current form is not good enough for him to be able to stay in the peloton when the race explodes. He is focused on gradually building up for the Tour de France rather than taking on Contador, Nairo Quintana and everyone else in Tirreno-Adriatico.
The Astana team will no doubt try to understand why Nibali was isolated without teammates on the final part of the three-kilometre climb. Perhaps several teammates around him would have made little difference if Nibali does not have the legs, but the absence of several sky blue Astana jerseys in the front group was noticeable.
Michele Scarponi was given permission to go on the attack on the first time up the Crespiero climb and so was unable offer much help when the break was caught before the final time up the climb. Other teammates were simply missing in action. Lieuwe Westra and Andriy Grivko finished 1:21 behind, with the rest of the team spread across the remaining pages of the results.
Nibali had tried to play down his chances at Tirreno-Adriatico in the build up to the race but his excellent time trial, where he beat Contador by eight seconds in just 5.4km of racing indicated he was on form. Now his chances of success look slim unless he can suddenly find form for the 16km climb to the mountain finish on Terminillo.
“I’m not building up my hopes and I’m not expecting too much from myself. I don’t think I have to get a result, I don’t think I need to win this race,” he had told Cyclingnews prophetically earlier in Tirreno-Adriatico.
To subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel, click here