CRESTED BUTTE, Colorado (VN) — Arguments on the road are nothing new in cycling, but on Tuesday we saw an entire breakaway up in arms as its strongest rider, Vincenzo Nibali, sat on the back while the group rode toward a finish climb suited perfectly to the Italian all-rounder.
“Him and his teammate were screwing up the break the whole day, so it was very frustrating dealing with those two guys,” Craig Lewis (Champion System) told VeloNews moments after coming across the line. “I think if they weren’t in there, we would have stayed away for sure. We just spent so much time and energy worrying about them.”
An unruly opening 30km gave way to a group of 12 riders at the front of the race. Most notable in the group were a cadre of WorldTour riders, including Liquigas-Cannondale’s Nibali and “teammate” Valerio Agnoli, Garmin-Sharp’s Alex Howes and Dave Zabriskie, and BMC Racing’s Matthias Frank. The group, with Angoli doing a good bit of work, built up a lead of six minutes before the summit of the stage’s second KOM.
But by the time the group made it to the day’s first sprint line in Gunnison, 52km from the finish, the gap was shrinking and the Italians were beginning to think about the finish climb at Mount Crested Butte.
Nibali began sitting out pulls, staying out of the wind as his teammate continued to work.
“I don’t care what anyone does. Bike racing is strategic and everyone races their own race… Agnoli did a lot of work early to establish the break. He worked a lot on the first climb and they worked hard,” said Chris Baldwin, who represented Bissell in the move.
Baldwin, a veteran of the U.S. peloton and former national elite TT champion, spent time being battered in the Italian trenches as a younger rider. After working hard himself, Baldwin skipped a turn in the break late on Tuesday. The next thing fans saw on television was Baldwin waving his left hand in the air, shouting at Nibali at the back of the group.
“When I missed a pull he laid into me,” Baldwin told VeloNews. “I’m kind of done taking any abuse from big-shot Italians. When he got mad at me for sitting on, I had some words for him… I laid into him for five minutes.”
Lewis, a grand tour veteran and former top domestique for High Road, became increasingly frustrated talking about the Liquigas riders near his team bus.
“They wouldn’t pull through and they would swing off in the middle of their turns,” Lewis told VeloNews. “They were sitting on the back and they’re some of the best riders in the race. There’s no excuse for that. Nibali won the Vuelta a few years ago and he should be able to ride in a breakaway.
“Everybody was yelling at them non-stop. They understand body language. There’s no excuse for that.”
Nibali said the criticism was unjust, pointing to his contributions to Monday’s breakaway and the game of wits necessary to find victory in a tough finish like that above Crested Butte.
“I worked as the others and I don’t understand their criticism,” Nibali told VeloNews. “I have interest in the break because the final was suited for me and I had good feeling.”
Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp), who was on a bad day, was hurting so badly that he didn’t see any of it.
“It was a little interesting when they have the second guy sitting on, because it was Nibali’s race to lose,” Howes told VeloNews. “I really wasn’t paying too much attention to it because I was pretty messed up myself.”
In the end, the bunch scooped up the last of the breakaway survivors on the 4.1km climb to Mount Crested Butte. Nibali lost 1:23 on the stage and Howes was the highest placed rider from the group, finishing 24th and losing 26 seconds.
“Well, I think that everyone has be to free to follow their goal in the race and mine, as I did yesterday, is to animate the race and why not search a win?” Nibali asked. “On the contrary, even if me and Agnoli wasn’t in the break, the group would catch them because many leaders, as van Garderen, Vande Velde and Leipheimer were interested in the stage win and to earn important seconds for GC.”
“Live and let live, man.”