Vincenzo Nibali just showed the world once again why he’s the strongest and smartest rider in the Tour de France with a beautiful display of racecraft and power.
Photo by Yuzuru Sunada; GIFs, screenshot via NBC Sports
As the peloton was racing toward the finish of Sunday’s stage 15 in Nîmes, things were beginning to look sketchy. A storm was hovering right over the race, crosswinds were bullying riders across the roads, rain was battering the pack, and multiple slick roundabouts were causing high anxiety. When Peter Sagan calls it a stressful day, you know it’s for real.
There have been no easy or “routine” stages in this Tour, and Nibali knows that better than anyone else, having seen his main rivals, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, crash out dramatically before the first rest day.
Although it was a mostly flat stage, the riders were really on edge.
There were insane tailwinds and crosswinds, and the pack was always racing faster than the organizers’ fastest time schedule.
In the crosswinds guys were getting shelled. Guys were getting punctures at high speed and trying to continue riding as they waited for their team cars to catch up with them — they were afraid of not getting back to the peloton it was that fast.
Paris-Roubaix champ Niki Terpstra, who finished in the peloton, averaged 28 mph.
Even top riders like Richie Porte were getting caught out.
At one point, Nibali sees gaps opening up, and he realizes that he could be in danger of getting swarmed by the riders behind him as they raced toward a dangerous roundabout. So he accelerates out of the slipstream of his teammates and into the wind, right up to BMC, who had no fewer than six guys on the front pushing the pace and keeping their leader, Tejay van Garderen, nice and safe.
Astana is a strong team, and they have ushered Nibali around England and France just about perfectly; but this was a moment where things were not ideal. Nibali sensed it. But he does not tell his team to take him to the front or to go faster. He wastes no time.
Boom — he just powers right up to BMC on his own. It’s not clear how fast the pack was moving but they were flying. Nibali hits full throttle:
In a way it’s a simple move, but in another way it’s so telling of Nibali’s instincts and cunning. He stays at the front. He does not ever turn off. He keeps out of trouble. He protects his jersey. In this instance, basically all by himself.
Nibali has shown he’s one of the best climbers in this year’s Tour. He’s shown he can crush it on the cobbles. He’s shown he’s one of the best descenders. He’s shown he’s an all-around badass on the bike.
Few read a race like Nibali. It’s moments like these that show how good he really is.
And after the stage the guy’s modest about it all.