After seeing his hopes of a repeat victory at the Vuelta a España evaporate on the slopes of the Angliru on Sunday, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) admitted that he was at a loss to explain why he was unable to match the other overall contenders on the vertiginous slopes of the Asturias climb.
Nibali crossed the line in 15th place, 2:37 down on stage winner and new race leader Juan José Cobo (Geox-TMC). Already on the back foot after losing ground at La Farrapona on Saturday, Nibali’s lost weekend has seen him slip to 8th place, 3:27 behind Cobo.
“I had a bad spell,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport. “It seemed like it was going to be a good day, but it didn’t work out like that. I’ll assess carefully what I did wrong, but it’s not easy to say so soon afterwards. I’m the first person to know that the real Nibali is better than the one you’ve seen in the past two days.”
Nibali’s Liquigas-Cannondale teammates were prominent at the head of the peloton on the approach to the base of the Angliru, but even before the road pitched up to its sharpest gradients, the Sicilian began to lose contact with the red jersey group.
“I thought I was going quite well, so I asked the team to set a strong rhythm,” he explained. “I didn’t want there to be too many of us at the foot of the Angliru, but on the steeper sections, I understood that Cobo couldn’t wait to attack.”
Nibali admitted that he was surprised by Cobo’s display on the Angliru, which leaves him in the overall lead with just six stages to go. “Yes, he hasn’t ridden like that since the Tour stage at Hautacam in 2008,” Nibali said. On that occasion, Cobo finished in second place, just behind Saunier Duval teammate Leonardo Piepoli, who subsequently tested positive for CERA.
“I think it will be very hard to take the jersey off him now,” Nibali warned.
Giro fatigue not a factor
While Alberto Contador paid for his Giro d’Italia-winning efforts with a heavy-legged performance at the Tour de France in July, third-placed Nibali said that his own Giro exertions were no excuse for his lacklustre showing at the Vuelta.
“No, the Giro is a long time ago, it’s in the past,” Nibali said. “And in 2010 I rode the Giro and the Vuelta, finishing third and first.”
If anything, Nibali believes he may have been under-raced in the approach to the Vuelta. In 2010, he was third in the Vuelta a Burgos and won the Trofeo Melinda in the weeks leading up to the Spanish race, whereas this time around, his build-up was rather more low-key and centred on the Tour of Poland.
“Perhaps something was wrong with my build-up, and maybe only riding the Tour of Poland [and the Tre Valli Varesine, where was 15th – ed] was too little,” Nibali admitted. “But I’m still convinced that you can prepare well for both the Giro and the Vuelta."
Now seemingly out of the hunt for overall victory in Madrid, Nibali acknowledged that the congested nature of the upper echelons of the overall standings means that it will be difficult to for him to infiltrate breaks and win a stage in the undulating final week.
“It’s going to be difficult to leave a marker at this point, because I’m still in the top ten overall and they certainly won’t let me go in the breaks. I’ll have to invent something. I’ll try.”