According to a staff member on a rival team, the Trek-Segafredo leader lined the bunch out in very impressive fashion on at least two occasions early on the stage before the break finally formed. It was almost as if he'd been told to make those efforts by his coach, Paolo Slongo, Cyclingnews was told.
Speaking before the start of stage 4, Nibali said that he had made two extended efforts that were pre-planned, although with the aim of splitting the peloton rather than following his coach's instructions.
"Yesterday's stage was ideal for a breakaway," he said. "I made a couple of long efforts to try to cause the split and in the end they didn't make the difference that was needed. You always need a bit of luck to get into the break, and it didn't work out for me."
While the shorter stages at Bessèges don't compare with the much tougher tests to come, the fact that the field is WorldTour-level and the racing has been consistently intense has made it significantly tougher than usual. Many in the bunch have appreciated the test it's offered, Nibali concluded.
"It's the first race of the season and you never know quite how you're going to feel, but it's been a really good race for me so far. My general condition is good and I feel like I'm getting stronger day by day," he said.
He was more candid, though, when asked about his objectives in the short term. After his unusual start to the season at Bessèges, his programme is set to take him on a more familiar path, via Tirreno-Adriatico to Milan-San Remo, which he won three seasons ago. Surely that will be his primary objective again?
"We'll have to see how things turn out this season. I'm not setting out any specific objectives yet," he said.
"There are lots of important races ahead and the key thing at the moment is to tackle them with real enthusiasm, which is what I feel I've got after the training I've done and the opening days here. I'm feeling very optimistic about what's ahead."
The signs are, though, that the Shark is getting his bite back.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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