Seven years after rode himself into the overall victory in a long, flat third week time trial during a Vuelta a España, Vincenzo Nibali turned in a far better performance, claiming third place in stage 16 of the 2017 race in Logroño. But unlike in 2010, the Bahrain-Merida rider remains unconvinced that he can claim the overall title.
Back in 2010 at Peñafiel, in a test six kilometres longer than today's stage to Logroño, Nibali finished 15th behind stage winner Peter Velits. But his performance was still far better than the previous leader Joaquim Rodriguez and enabled the Italian to move back into the top spot overall.
Nibali went on to win that year's Vuelta and since then he has claimed three more Grand Tours and his time trialling has improved in leaps and bounds.
But despite a logically much better performance in Logroño, netting third place at 57 seconds, and bolstering his second place overall on the entire field barring Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) and stage winner Chris Froome (Sky), Nibali seemed even more doubtful than usual about his chances of going one better and toppling the Briton.
"What you feel in a time trial is a good indication of where you're at in terms of form," Nibali said afterward, "and it's going to be very difficult to beat Froome."
"It was a real time trial, one where you had to produce huge speed. But there were a lot of cross-winds and so that wasn't easy. I kept moving on the road but it wasn't easy to keep the speed high because we did some parts between 60 and 80kph."
Coming after a strong performance by Froome in the mountains of southern Spain, where he and Sky clamped down easily on Nibali's long-distance attack at Sierra Nevada, the Shark of Messina's lack of optimism is perhaps understandable.
Froome has sometimes struggled in the third week of Grand Tours, but his performance in Logroño has netted the British star even more time on his closest rivals, despite Nibali's efficient, loss-limiting ride.
So Nibali's only method for trying to crack Froome inevitably centers on the Sky rider suffering some kind of major crisis on the two remaining summit finishes. But as the Angliru approaches – the same third-week finale where Nibali lost the Vuelta in 2013 – it looks increasingly likely that history will repeat itself in 2017 and the Italian will be forced to settle for second again in Madrid.
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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