Vincenzo Nibali tried to stay upbeat after losing 1:06 to Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and similar amounts to his overall rivals Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome (Team Sky), Mitchelton-Scott's Adam Yates and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) in the Cholet team time trial on stage 3 of the Tour de France on Monday.
The Sicilian struggled to hide his disappointment, however, clearly fuming about how his Bahrain-Merida teammates had failed to give him the support he had expected during the 35.5km effort.
Bahrain-Merida selected powerful rouleurs Heinrich Haussler, Kristijan Koren and Sonny Colbrelli to help drive the squad in the team time trial. Yet Colbrelli and other riders were dropped early, quickly reducing the effectiveness of Bahrain-Merida's effort.
Then Haussler and Koren were distanced with eight kilometres to go, leaving Nibali with climbers Gorka and Ion Izaguirre and Domenico Pozzovivo – the minimum number of riders necessary to set a time.
Bahrain-Merida set a time similar to Jakob Fuglsang's Astana team, Ilnur Zakarin's Katusha-Alpecin squad and Mikel Landa, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana of Movistar, while AG2R La Mondiale, riding for Romain Bardet, and Daniel Martin and his UAE Team Emirates teammates were slower than Bahrain-Merida and lost time to Nibali in the virtual classification of overall contenders.
But Nibali was hoping that a new Merida time trial bike and some hard work by riders and staff would limit their losses to significantly below a minute.
When his teammates struggled, Nibali's own frustrations became visible, dropping his teammates on the short, late climb.
"We weren't super-strong, and there were only four of us left in the final kilometres," Nibali said, carefully choosing his words but sending a clear message of dissatisfaction.
"We tried to do the best we could. We are not great time trial specialists in team time trials. It could have gone worse, but it could have been better. When there are only four riders left like that, you only needed a flat or a mechanical and we would have been in big trouble."
Nibali hoped to strike a psychological blow to his rivals on a stage that didn't suit him. However, the 2014 Tour de France winner was reminded that patience is a vital virtue in Grand Tour racing.
"In a Grand Tour, you need to be really patient. Look at the Giro d'Italia this year and in the past: we've seen how things can change suddenly. This is a very complex race because there are so many riders aiming for the GC, so we've got to take it one stage at a time, day by day, because anything can happen."
While his teammates warmed down in silence, and the Bahrain-Merida team staff looked glum, coach Paolo Slongo tried to correct Nibali's pessimism, just like he works on his physical fitness via training tables and motor pacing.
"We said for a long time that a one-minute loss would be the worst-case scenario. We're in that range, so we have to be satisfied," Slongo argued. "It wasn't an off day by some of the guys. We just did what we could and limited our losses."
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