Entering Saturday's final time trial from Bonneval to Chartres, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) was already all but assured of a podium place but also long resigned to his final standing behind the Sky pair of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
Faced with Sky's catenaccio approach to racing in the mountains, Nibali attempted to counter with a more expansive outlook during this Tour de France, but found himself repeatedly thwarted by the offside trap. Nonetheless, his final third place finish offers some reward for his consistently aggressive showing.
"I wanted to put a bit more spectacle into this Tour but there wasn't a lot of space in the mountains to do that," Nibali said. "But in the end, that's how it was, it was hard every day.
"I think I have to be happy, what can I say. Maybe I could have done with some more climbs in this race but in the end, I have to be happy that I was up there with the best of them. I think I can still improve and for now, I'll just content myself with this nice placing."
Nibali now becomes the first Italian to finish on the podium of the Tour de France since Ivan Basso finished second to Lance Armstrong in 2005, a result overshadowed by Basso's subsequent implication in the Operacion Puerto blood doping investigation.
After winning the 2010 Vuelta a España and finishing on the podium of the Giro d'Italia in both 2010 and 2011, Nibali's Tour performance reaffirms his standing as one of the most consistent Grand Tour riders in the current peloton.
"It's a big confirmation that I'm a very high level when it comes to stage racing, and that a little difference could bring the big victory," he said. "I came here looking for a podium place, so I have to be happy with that."
Nibali provided Wiggins and Froome with their most persistent line of questioning during this year's Tour, be it on the climbs of La Toussuire and the Peyresourde or the descent of the Col de Menté, until the Sky pair came up with their final answer at Peyragudes on Thursday.
It subsequently emerged that Nibali had begun to suffer from a calf problem following his efforts on the previous day's set-piece Pyrenean stage to Bagnères-de-Luchon and he admitted that he was still affected by the complaint during Saturday's time trial, which he finished in 16th place, 3:38 down on Wiggins.
"I've had this problem and while I wasn't letting on a thing, it was affecting me quite a bit," he said. "It was very, very hard and not suited to my characteristics, because it was very flat. It was a very big effort, but I did a decent time trial and I've got to be happy. Tomorrow will be a special day."
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