Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) grew up watching old video tapes of Francesco Moser race to three consecutive victories at Paris-Roubaix and he seemed as comfortable as his fellow Italian as he glided over the very same cobbles to extend his lead in the Tour de France on stage five.
"I'm a lot lighter that Moser but I'm not bad," Nibali shivering in the mixed zone after pulling on a clean yellow jersey.
"I learnt how to ride well when I was a boy and rode around on a mountain bike. [Jakob] Fuglsang was a world mountain bike champion and he was amazing today. [Lieuwe] Westra was amazing too. It was great he went in the break because he was up there to help me. It was a very hard stage. I'm just happy that it went well for us. It was terrible out there. It was incredibly stressful from start to finish. There were a lot of crashes too."
Nibali had never raced on the cobbles of northern France before Wednesday's stage but his well-known bike handling skills and those of teammates Jakob Fuglsang and Lieuwe Westra proved to be decisive on an historic day at the Tour de France. Nibali finished third, just 19 seconds behind winner Lars Boom and so took close to two minutes on all his overall rivals.
He now leads Fuglsang by two seconds, with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) third at 44 seconds. Chris Froome (Team Sky) is no longer a rival after crashing out, while Contador is at 2:37.
"I didn't think I would distance Contador so much today. But I'll keep my feet on the ground. I want to remain tranquillo," he said.
When Chris Froome crashed early in the stage, Nibali slowed the peloton in an act of slow play. Froome crashed a second time and then climbed off.
"I'm really sorry for Chris Froome, he's a great rival but unfortunately there are also these kinds of stages in the Tour de France," Nibali said, with genuine compassion.
"Cycling is about racing on all kinds of conditions. At the Giro d'Italia we get days like this. We raced on the dirt roads of Strade Bianche one year and I lost the pink jersey that day. Froome crashed yesterday and he crashed again today, before the cobbles. That's cycling."
Nibali's overall race lead is unlikely to be challenged until Monday's first big mountain stage to La Planche des Belles Filles. However, with the experience of winning the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España, he knows the Tour de France has only just began.
"There's still a long way to go before we get to Paris, with lots of mountains a long the way and everybody has seen that crashes can happen at any moment," he said adding he had no plans to ride Paris-Roubaix in 2015 after his good day to on the pavé.
"I don't think so. This was a 155km stage and wasn't easy. I'll leave Paris-Roubaix for the specialists," he said.
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