BAGNÈRES-DE-LUCHON, France (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali showed Wednesday that if he can’t wrestle the maillot jaune away from Bradley Wiggins, he is determined to go down fighting in this Tour de France. He unloaded his rounds yesterday at Wiggins and Chris Froome (Sky) on the final climb, but failed to hit his intended target.
Liquigas-Cannondale’s Sicilian fired off multiple times on the Col de Peyresourde, the final of four climbs yesterday. Froome and then, on the last shot, Wiggins replied.
“I always said my goal was to finish on the podium, but, you know, when you’re up there you always have the highest hopes,” Nibali explained. “I was also thinking about the stage win, but I saw it was very hard given Sky’s strength.”
Wiggins sits first and Froome second overall in the Tour with only one more mountain stage, today’s 143.5km haul to Peyragudes. Nibali is third overall and trails Wiggins by 2:23. He is 18 seconds back on Froome.
“Any more than that would’ve been impossible,” Liquigas’ general manager, Roberto Amadio told VeloNews. “He pulled off a good one. Wiggins, Froome and Nibali are showing to be the strongest riders of this race. They deserve the places they have.”
The shots he fired ensured rivals Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) were unable to return. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) won the stage, but the leading GC trio put nearly one minute on Van den Broeck and nearly five minutes on defending champion Evans.
Liquigas teammate, Ivan Basso appeared capable for the first time in the race. He moved to the front midway up the 9.5km climb and rode a rhythm that first shattered Evans and then the others, including himself.
Nibali did the rest, ridding himself of all but Wiggins and Froome. After the top of the climb, the trio reach a ceasefire and rode to Bagnères-de-Luchon in peace.
“It was hard. I tried to attack on the climb. I tried two, three and even four accelerations with force to see if they had it. It was very hard. Then the descent was not in my favor, so we rode to the line together. That’s it. It was also a very hard day given the high temperatures,” Nibali explained.
“It’s difficult to do [break Sky]. I’m still happy with all I’ve done up to this point. You’ve got to hand it to Sky; they are doing great work.”
If Nibali continues as he has, he will become the first Italian to finish on the Tour’s podium since Basso in 2005. He will also cap off eight years of work for Liquigas, giving the Italian team its first Tour podium spot. It would be a proper farewell gift, Nibali is likely to transfer to Astana this winter and Liquigas will cease sponsorship in Amadio’s team.
One serious mountain day remains, however. The Tour tackles the Port de Balès, the Col de Peyresourde and the Peyragudes today.
“I said that I am also here racing for a stage win,” Nibali added. “So, this is my last chance.”