Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) has been the most consistent dissenting voice in a Tour de France that has to date bended to the laws imposed by Team Sky's autocracy, and he continued in that vein on and off the bike on stage 10 to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.
As anticipated, Nibali used the treacherous descent of the Col du Grand Colombier to launch a constitutional challenge to Bradley Wiggins' yellow jersey, but in spite of gaining a lead of a minute at one point, his insurgency was quashed by Sky's storm troopers on the slopes of the final climb, the Col de Richemond.
Nibali would go on to finish alongside the yellow jersey and the other overall favourites, 3:16 down on stage winner Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), but complained afterwards that Wiggins had shown a distinct lack of respect by staring him down as they crossed the line.
"When we crossed the line, Bradley turned and looked at me," Nibali said. "If he wants to be a great champion, he needs to have a bit of respect for his adversaries. Sometimes turning around and looking into your face is an insult."
Nibali made headlines at the weekend when he told L'Équipe that Wiggins didn't impress him, and while he acknowledged the pre-eminence of Sky thus far, he warned that the lie of the land can change very quickly in cycling.
"You need to show a bit of respect for your adversaries. Right now, we know, they're going very well, but the wheel can turn for everybody," he said. "We've never had riders kicking and punching each other as happens in football. There's always been respect for rivals. For me, there's always been this great respect, so to turn around and look at a rival in the face like he did was not very nice."
Given his renown as a descender, Nibali's attack on the way down the Grand Colombier with over 40 kilometres to go carried all the surprise of an advertised peaceful protest, but his manifestation nonetheless gained plenty of traction and at least caused some mild discomfort for the Sky regime.
"The idea was to put Sky on edge a bit, as they're all going very well and we're looking to isolate Wiggins as much as possible," said Nibali, although he was unable to form a coalition to buttress his attack. "Cadel [Evans] and I spoke, but maybe he wasn't very convinced today, so in the end he stayed on the wheels."
Instead, Nibali found support from inside his own party – Peter Sagan had gone up the road in the day's early break in search of points to tighten his grip on the green jersey, and the Slovak proved to be a useful ally when he waited for Nibali.
"I was able to make a nice attack because Peter was up ahead and I was able to get across to him," Nibali said. "He took some great lines through the corners too, so we had a minute by the bottom of the climb."
With Sky leading the pursuit behind, however, Nibali opted to rein in his efforts when Sagan fell back on the slopes of the final climb, the Col de Richemond. "I wasn't feeling very well in the finale so when he was dropped I didn't have the same conviction that I could continue going ahead so I sat up," he explained. "I was mainly on his wheel before that, and when he was dropped, I realised it would be difficult so I eased up and looked to keep the gap as it was without trying to force it too much."
Nibali remains in 4th place overall, 2:23 down on Wiggins, but while his efforts on Wednesday ultimately had no effect on the status quo, the Sicilian will hope to carry the fight to Sky once again on the road to La Toussuire on stage 11.
"Tomorrow is a different stage with a summit finish but it's not a really very difficult stage," he said. "That said, it's not a long stage and sometimes shorter stages can cause bigger changes in the classification. We'll have to see what the various GC guys want to do because if someone wants to attack alone against four Sky riders, it's tough."
Nibali already expressed his desire to form alliances during his rest day press conference, and he will be all too aware that raging alone against the machine is rarely a long-term occupation. "I've shown courage so far, there are others who really need to show courage now," he said.
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.
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