Vincenzo Nibali was given the combativity award after stage 7 of the Tour de France to Lac de la Payolle as a sign of recognition for his aggressive riding during the stage. For the 2014 Tour de France champion it was of little consolation after missing out on the stage victory. The spotlight forced him to answer questions about his form, his individual tactics, and his apparent lack of desire to work for Astana teammate Fabio Aru.
The official line in the Astana team is that Nibali is riding the Tour de France to prepare for the road race at the Rio Olympics. After winning the Giro d'Italia he took time off to recover and so Aru is the team leader for the Tour. Aru continued to talk up his teammate after the stage in a sign of non-belligerence and insisted that Nibali will be there to help win the key mountain stages.
However Nibali's attack indicates that he is determined to ride his own race, with little regard for Aru's hopes and ambitions in the overall classification. It will be interesting to see how Nibali performs on stage 8, a brutal day with four major climbs in the Pyrenees, and on the first mountain finish in Andorra on Sunday.
"I'm here to work on my form for the Olympic road race. I feel I'm getting better and otherwise I wouldn't have gone up the road today," Nibali argued to the Italian media and Cyclingnews behind the podium area after he collected his award.
His attack seemed like a classic pre-emptive move from the Shark of Messina. When he is not at his best he likes to go on the attack even if he has little chance of victory. It is arguably a show of courage but also gives him a shield from any criticism when he loses time. Nibali was apparently unhappy that Gazzetta dello Sport headlined his time loss on the stage to Le Lioran as a 'Nibali flop' and tried to bite back on Friday.
"Our plan was different this morning, I should have stayed with Fabio and the other GC guys but when the first break with Luis Leon Sanchez was pulled back, [race leader Greg] Van Avermaet went in the next break and so I moved too," he explained.
Race data showed that Nibali climbed the Col d'Aspin at 21km/h, slower than stage winner Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data). He finished fourth on the stage, 2:14 down on the British rider.
"We went flat out but some riders attacked to try to gain an advantage on me. Cummings rode well and I can only congratulate him. I tried to get across to him quickly but it was difficult on the climb and by the top I was pretty tired.
"There are other stages where I can try to do something, my legs are feeling better. I'll try to help the team because Fabio can do well overall and I can maybe come up with something…"
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