CRESTED BUTTE, Colorado (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali leaned against a team car Tuesday morning, cool as could be. He’s not here to win the overall, the Italian said. He is here to win stages.
So far, he’s 0-2, but he’s been good to his word. Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) is here to attack.
The Shark of Messina pedaled in vain on Monday’s opening foray of the USA Pro Challenge from Durango to Telluride, riding in the breakaway all day. Nibali was caught out just short of Telluride, and found himself slipping off the back. He lost 1:46 on the day.
“I suffered yesterday after the effort of the break, and also maybe because of the altitude,” he said. “I may have lost a little time at the finale, but really the objectives are not so much for the general classification but to win a stage.”
Nibali took another crack on Tuesday, from Montrose to Mt. Crested Butte, a stage that saw three category 3 climbs and a sharp uphill finishing ramp. The break was caught low on the slopes of Mt. Crested Butte, and Nibali lost time yet again and is now 3:09 off the lead.
BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen ultimately won the day — and the yellow jersey — when he attacked on the finishing ramp. The BMC man hauled Garmin-Sharp’s Christian Vande Velde along for the ride, but the stage clearly belonged to van Garderen.
For Nibali, Wednesday’s stage from Gunnison to Aspen offers another opportunity to go on the hunt. On the day’s first climb, the group must contend with 14 miles of dirt to vanquish the 12,126-foot summit of Cottonwood Pass. The field will then drop down to the sprint line in Buena Vista, where it will be staring at another monster, the 12,000-foot summit of Independence Pass, before a fast descent into Aspen. The Shark is widely regarded as one of the best downhill attackers in the peloton.
“Regarding the stage into Aspen — the descent for me is always an opportunity to attack. Even a stage like today might be an opportunity,” said Nibali. “But I haven’t really raced so much like this over 2,500 meters, so I’m suffering a little bit of the altitude. But I’ll keep trying.”
For Nibali, the men to bet on in the GC are the same ones everyone else picks: van Garderen, Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson.
“You never know who’s going to surprise and step up,” he said.