For the third time in this year's Vuelta a Espana, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has taken the race lead, and on each occasion his hold has become steadily more tenacious - even if the Italian was battling a wasp sting from training on Tuesday that left him feeling extremely groggy on the morning of the time trial.
Although the swelling had gone down some by the afternoon, Nibali still raced and did his post-stage interviews with dark glasses that mostly hid the painful visible knock-on effects - red, puffed-up eyes - of the sting.
Nibali queried the wisdom of unspecified anti-doping regulations - whether of the MPCC, to which Astana belongs, or WADA was not clear - which apparently did not permit him to receive full medical treatment for the sting. He did say, in any case, that the effects of the sting were diminishing as the day continued.
Whatever the internal effects, Nibali still managed to capture fourth on the stage and move into the lead with a 33-second advantage over Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff), whilst Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and former leader Chris Horner (RadioShack Trek) are a little further back, at 46 seconds.
"I wouldn't know how this affected my performance, but this morning when I woke up it was very painful. It had been all right but it got worse overnight. Then little by little, when I went out on the bike I slowly got better," Nibali said.
He described the time trial as "complicated, with a first part that climbed constantly and then a second, faster, part. But I didn't have any problems because the descent was not so difficult and the curves not too complicated."
He will defend the lead "day by day and keeping a close eye on my rivals." Interestingly, he regarded Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) - the former who performed much better than expected and the latter a little worse in the time trial - as his two main rivals. "I didn't expect Horner to lose so much time," he added.
"Horner and Roche are up there, but these two [Valverde and Rodriguez] are the most dangerous," he said. "Particularly with the mountain stages to come, five hard, major days of climbing."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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