Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) has been here before, and he didn't evince any particular concern when asked how he had felt on stage 5 of the Critérium du Dauphiné. "Malissimo," Nibali said frankly, after placing 16th, 59 seconds behind Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates).
Nibali was in the reduced peloton on the final, hors categorie haul to the finish at Valmorel, but he was distanced when the group splintered following Adam Yates' acceleration with a little over three kilometres remaining. From there, Nibali's race was to limit his losses.
"I felt very bad all day," Nibali told Cyclingnews afterwards. "I tried to manage myself as best I could, but it was very hard."
In the overall standings, Nibali now lies in 20th place overall, 3:44 down on new yellow jersey Geraint Thomas (Team Sky). He will look to test himself further on the final weekend of the race, which includes two further summit finishes. Saturday's short but tough leg to La Rosière doubles as a dress rehearsal for stage 11 of the Tour de France.
"Let's hope that in the next few days, my condition can improve, and I hope I can do a nice stage at the weekend, but it will be hard," said Nibali. "Dan Martin made a great attack today Sky are very solid with Geraint Thomas, who is doing a great race."
Nibali's 2018 campaign began with a remarkable solo win at Milan-San Remo, and pugnacious displays at the Tour of Flanders and La Flèche Wallonne. The second part of Nibali's season is built around the Tour de France, and he has stressed that he is at the Dauphiné strictly to prepare for La Grande Boucle. Indeed, battling through the week-long stage race in search of form has become something of a rite of passage for the Sicilian over the years as he builds towards the Tour.
"My objective is to do this race without pressure, to hang tough and to get race rhythm because that's important ahead of the Tour," Nibali said. "It's always a lot of work to get into condition. There are a lot of riders here with ambitions to win this race, and I knew I was a little bit behind them coming in. But today, even though I felt bad, I still tried to defend myself."
In 2012, Nibali rode to 28th overall at the Dauphiné before placing third overall at the Tour the following month, behind the Sky pairing of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
Two years later, Nibali seemed off the pace of Froome and Alberto Contador at the Dauphiné only to improve to 7th overall in the final weekend and then go on to win the Tour de France. In 2015, Nibali could only manage 12th at the Dauphiné, but won the Italian title two weeks later and placed 4th overall at the Tour.
With an additional week between the Dauphiné and the Tour in 2018 on account of the football World Cup, Nibali appears to be in no particular rush to reach top form this time around. When the Dauphiné concludes on Sunday, after all, the Grand Départ of the Tour will still be four weeks away. Part of the intervening period will be spent training at altitude at the Passo San Pellegrino.
"I'm looking to work towards my objective," Nibali said. "And no matter what result I get here, I know that I'm working well towards getting to that objective in the best condition possible."
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