Stage 2 of the Vuelta a España was a disaster for Vincenzo Nibali as he was disqualified for holding onto his Astana team car. The Italian missed the race in 2016 but fast forward to 2017 and the second stage of the Spanish Grand Tour was a signal of intent and form from Bahrain-Merida's leader.
Nibali was the last man of the ten-rider front group in Gruissan during a chaotic finale to steal five seconds on Esteban Chaves, eight seconds on Chris Froome and Fabio Aru, and 13 seconds over Romain Bardet and Ilnur Zakarin. Compared to his inglorious exit two years ago, Nibali proved attentive and enjoyed a minor victory over his major rivals ahead of the first mountain stage of the race into Andorra.
"I have gained few seconds on my direct rivals. There may be many, or they can not count anything. The important thing is that a very stressful stage has gone well," Nibali reflected on the stage won Yves Lampaert. "Few or many are good for the morale at the end of a very challenging and conditioned stage with strong winds, narrow roads and different little villages crossings."
The 2010 Vuelta winner, Nibali was seventh in 2011 after placing second at the Giro d'Italia in second place. He returned to the race again in 2013 after winning the Giro and was second to Chris Horner. With a Grand Tour record that includes five overall wins and 12 top-tens, Nibali is sure to once again contest at the pointy end of the race.
However, the 32-year-old will be missing teammate Javi Moreno for the remainder of the race after the Spaniard crashed out the race with a broken jaw.
"Some riders hit the deck in front of me and I couldn't avoid the crash," said Moreno, who was one of three riders to record a DNF on the stage.
Nibali also lost Moreno early from the Giro in May after he was ejected from the race for fighting with Sky's Diego Rosa. However, Nibali fought on and finished the race in third place overall and enjoyed a stage win.
Going into the third stage, Nibali will start with a 14-second deficit to Froome aiming to improve on his 24th place overall and continue his Vuelta redemption for 2015.