Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) again went on the attack during stage 3 at the Tour of Alps in search of a morale-boosting victory before the Giro d'Italia but again came up short, finishing fourth, after Grand Tour rival Chris Froome (Team Sky) chased him down on the final climb of the day close to the finish in Baselga di Pine.
Nibali made several accelerations on the five-kilometre climb, even combining forces with Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), but Froome switched to the role of domestique to help young teammate Pavel Sivakov and lead the chase. Froome carefully gauged his effort instead of jumping after Nibali, letting him hang out front while closing the gap at a pace that suited Sivakov's rouleur style.
For a moment, the Tour of the Alps was like a Tour de France stage, with Nibali going all out in attacks while Froome and Team Sky forced to grind him down. Nibali often frowned at Team Sky's and Froome’s number-based style of racing, but he seemed to enjoy going on the attack and seeing Froome lead the chase after him.
"He's got the strongest team, that's for sure. They played their card pretty well today," Nibali joked about how Froome had become Sivakov's new super domestique.
"Froome closed down attacks several times and then helped set the pace they wanted. It was high intensity; the numbers were way up there. It was big watts. Majka was there, too, but we soon realised it would be difficult to get away.
"It was a short-but-intense stage, so we knew it would blow up today. I initially didn't want to give it a go because violent efforts aren't really my thing. But I decided to give it a go to see how I felt and to see what happened. It was fun in the end. I enjoyed it."
Nibali has not a won a race since the 2018 Milan-San Remo and has admitted that his vertebrae fracture - suffered in a crash caused by a spectator on L'Alpe d'Huez during the Tour de France - has affected his position on the bike. However, after a difficult early season due to his fracture recovery, Nibali is pain free and has worked hard at a recent altitude camp on mount Teide. He seems upbeat and happy to race as the days count down to the Giro d'Italia.
After the Tour of the Alps, Nibali will not race again before the Giro, using the two weeks before the Grande Partenza in Bologna to study a few key stages, lose a final half kilogramme of weight and rest up for an expected intense three weeks of racing.
"I was behind on my form in the early season, but things have just gotten better and better. I'm looking forward to the Giro d'Italia now," Nibali concluded with a confident smile.