Fabio Aru arrived quickly at the Astana team bus after finishing in the front group of overall contenders for the Tour de France behind stage winner and new race leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). However the wait for Vincenzo Nibali felt like a funeral, with none of the Astana team management, including team manager Alexandre Vinokourov and coach Paolo Slongo able to understand or explain why the Giro d'Italia winner was dropped on the Puy Mary, the first climb in the finale of the stage.
Nibali finished 13:45 down on Van Avermaet and was 8:38 down on the group of overall contenders that now sits five minutes down on the Belgian. His hopes of performing well in the Tour de France a few weeks after winning the Giro d'Italia ended as soon as the race entered the rolling hills of the Massif Central.
Before the start in La Manche, Nibali hinted at a desire and hope of doing well but his true form emerged today and his abdication and loss of time confirmed that Aru is Astana's only hope for the general classification.
Nibali arrived at the Astana bus with teammate Paolo Tiralongo, using his bike skills to unclip one leg and climb off his bike in one movement. He seemed fresh and had his thoughts on the stage ready.
"I wanted to stay up front with Fabio but I was on a bad day and didn't have the legs, so let them go and went in a gruppetto. I'm tranquillo, I'm fine and I've no regrets." he explained matter of factly.
"Va bene cosi – it's all good," he added.
"I've already ridden and won the Giro d'Italia and that cost me a lot of energy. After the Giro I took ten days off and so despite training in the Dolomites, I just didn't know how I'd ride. It's never easy to understand how you'll react on a day like today."
Nibali was keen to pass any responsibility and leadership at the Tour de France onto Aru's shoulders.
"We've always said that Fabio is focusing on the general classification and so were here to help him," he said.
"Today I could have perhaps helped him by being with him but it just wasn't a good day for me. It's never easy on the first mountain stage and when it's hot like today. But we know that Fabio is riding well and we're confident we can have a good Tour."
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Focused on the Olympic road race
Nibali is focused on the road race at the Olympic Games in Rio. He has been given team leadership by Italian national coach Davide Cassani and will have Aru as support. The full Italian team of five riders will be named on Monday July 11. The Olympic road race will be held on August 6, in exactly a month's time.
"I've got a very important goal ahead of me in about a months time and I've got to be at my best then. I know I've got tine to peak again and will try to find my form day by day during the Tour de France," Nibali said before climbing into the Astana team bus.
He started the day as a possible overall winner but the first mountain stage downgraded him to the role of domestique deluxe and confirmed his Tour de France as preparation for Rio.
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