After vowing to take the battle to Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) was true to his word on the road to La Toussuire on stage 11 of the Tour de France, as he launched two dangerous attacks on the final climb.
Although Nibali's attempts to put time into the Briton were ultimately frustrated, he did have the consolation of moving up to 3rd place overall after Cadel Evans (BMC) proved unable to follow when the pace ratcheted up in the closing five kilometres.
Thursday morning's L'Équipe colourfully mused that Wiggins would have to surf through the Shark's waves if he is to win the Tour, and Lo Squalo dello Stretto made his first ripples midway up the final haul to La Toussuire.
Nibali's initial attack with 10 kilometres to go was quickly snuffed out, but just when it was safe to get back in the water 500 metres later, he struck again, this time opening a decent gap over the dwindling group of favourites.
"I was feeling good and I waited for the last climb to attack," Nibali said. "There weren't too many teammates with Wiggins, so I decided to go for it. I attacked twice. The first time they brought me back and then I tried again, because I wanted to make them work."
Nibali held a 20-second advantage at one point as he bridged across to an earlier move featuring Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat). Further down the climb, however, Chris Froome was cranking into action in the service of Wiggins.
"It was hard," Nibali said. "I saw that Froome was very strong and as always he showed himself to be a wonderful gregario. He did all of the dirty work on the climb."
By the time Nibali was pegged back with 5 kilometres remaining, however, Evans had been unceremoniously deposited out the back of the yellow jersey group. Nibali now holds a lead of almost a minute over the Australian and has positioned himself as the man most likely to trouble Sky's pre-eminence. "I didn't think we'd drop Evans," Nibali said. "He's a great champion as we all know and anyone can have a day of crisis."
Nibali will have been an interested observer in the finale as a show of force from Froome saw Wiggins briefly distanced off the back of the group of favourites. "Yes, Wiggins had left a little gap," he said. "We were all up there but we also all a bit tired as the pace was very high and on the climb we had all made a lot of accelerations, so it was logical that it was difficult to follow."
After accusing Wiggins of a show of disrespect at the previous day's finish in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, Nibali also revealed that the pair had spoken about the matter on Thursday. According to one source, Wiggins's contentious glare was at Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan), who he felt had ridden carelessly in the finishing straight.
"He said that look wasn't for me," Nibali said. "That's the beauty of cycling right there, we can talk calmly and clear things up amongst ourselves. Wiggins has been a great rival. And he has great teammate in Froome."