In less than two kilometres, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) saw his Vuelta a España lead crumble to a little more than half as his rivals launched one attack after another on the final segment of the Sallent de Gallego-Formigal climb during stage 16.
Looking weary as he answered questions from Spanish TV, Nibali admitted that the duties involved when leading a race for so long were beginning to take its toll. He first took the jersey on stage 2, lost it on stage 3, regained it on stage 4 for a further four days and then returned to the top spot again on stage 11. On top of that, Nibali complained about the lengthy transfers, although that is the same for all of the riders in the 2013 Vuelta.
"It was a very tough finale, very windy and I thought I would handle it a bit better than I did," Nibali said after Monday's stage 16. His losses to the five riders immediately behind him on overall were 28 seconds to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 25 seconds to Valverde (Movistar), 22 to Horner (RadioShack Leopard), six to Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) and five to Domenico Pozzovico (Ag2R).
"In the last two Ks, I suddenly felt a lot weaker, but we can't forget this has all come at the end of three very hard stages. I've used up a lot of energy. Tomorrow's rest day is very timely!"
Nibali said that the jersey "began to weigh heavily on my shoulders, there's so much time spent doing interviews after the stages. Then there are the transfers, too. But I'll look at things and take them on the day by day. I'm sure the climbs in the final part of the last week, which are steeper, will suit me better."
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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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