For the first time since his stage win in Andorra, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) pulled back time on Chris Froome (Team Sky) after a fraught finale when the Vuelta a España leader crashed twice and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) went on the attack.
Nibali said that there could have been no predicting the drama of the last hour’s racing on Thursday, as Froome hit the deck not once, but twice, in a very short space of time. Froome was then forced to chase hard in an attempt to regain contact with the Bahrain-Merida group of GC favourites, which in turn was chasing Contador.
In the end, Nibali gained 20 seconds on Froome but lost 22 on Contador, meaning that in the overall battle, the gap between himself and the Briton has dropped to just 59 seconds. As a result, the two Andalusian summit finishes this weekend look even more certain to prove crucial in Nibali’s fight to take a second Vuelta a España, seven years after his breakthrough GC victory here in 2010.
“I thought maybe that something would happen today [Thursday] but not like this,” Nibali told reporters afterwards. “When Alberto Contador went, we were going flat out to chase him. When Froome crashed, we were already going all out to retake Contador so there was no waiting.”
Nibali recognised that although Contador is still over two minutes behind him, he constitutes a threat to him. However, it was notable that when Froome went up to Nibali to talk briefly after Contador initially broke away, there was no collaboration from Bahrain-Merida to bring back the Spaniard and Sky lead the chase. A few kilometres further on, though, that had changed.
“Alberto is always dangerous, and this is Alberto’s style of racing,” Nibali reflected afterwards. “Today’s he’s shown that he’s going really well.” With the racing ‘on’ at the point when Froome crashed, he said, there was nothing to do but continue to drive to chase Contador.
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