If Vincenzo Nibali's victory at the Giro d'Italia - once Bradley Wiggins (Sky) had gone home - was a question of fulfilling his role as leading pre-race favourite, the Italian's defeat at the Vuelta a Espana - and the way he refused to roll over and lose - was arguably even more impressive.
On Friday evening, after the Naranco summit finish where he lost the lead, Spanish TV commentators were roundly predicting that Nibali had reached a point of no return and would not be able to put up any kind of challenge on the Angliru.
They were proved wrong, and badly so. Instead Nibali shook off Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard) with seven kilometres to go on stage 20, launched three more serious attacks further up the climb and only cracked when Horner soared away a kilometre to the finish. Even then, he took fourth on the stage, 54 seconds back, and retained his second place overall - his third straight podium finish in a Grand Tour after taking third in the 2012 Tour de France and first in the Giro this spring. But more than the results, Nibali's adamant refusal to surrender is arguably what impressed the most.
"I've tried everything I could and doing more than what I did was impossible," Nibali said. "I'm happy because I've done the whole climb flat out, and I knew I could count on my teammates in the breakaway."
"It's been a great battle on the Angliru. I was in great shape, but it's normal that I gave in to Horner at the end."
After winning the team time trial and leading the race for 13 days of the previous 20, Astana and Nibali have been in the limelight for a long time at the Vuelta. And just as that may have taken too much of a toll on the Italian, Nibali recognised too that at Formigal [stage 16] he "underestimated Horner and he gained a few seconds."
"But I have to be realistic, I didn't arrive at the Vuelta with the same condition that I had in the Giro."
"I've had great rivals: Horner, Valverde, Purito. The whole pace of this year's Vuelta has been very high. I'm fine with the outcome. Winner of the Giro and second at the Vuelta: it's pretty good."
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