Nibali sprints for the stage and Froome takes race lead as Contador tries to keep up
Nibali takes a bite out of the competition
It was clear that Nibali was struggling at the beginning of the last climb but the Shark’s problems were compounded as he blew up only metres from the top.
Looking on the Italian saw his compatriot Fabio Aru (Astana) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) leave him behind as they peaked the climb together, while Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) had began their descent.
However, in classic Nibali fashion, the Italian showed a plethora of experience as he descended in true racing style to get back on with less than a kilometre of racing to go.
With Froome attempting to string out the group with an attack 700m from the line, Nibali played the waiting game and struck as they turned the corner onto the home straight building up enough of a lead to celebrate as he crossed the line.
Having lost time early on in the team time trial on stage one Nibali was on the back foot early, but as he showed in the Giro earlier in the year, you can never write him off.
Froome takes lead in style
Launching a cheeky attack for the intermediate sprint and taking third for the day’s stage, Froome amassed enough bonus seconds to propel himself into the red jersey for the first time in this race.
With no one seemingly contesting the intermediate sprint before the last climb of the days, Froome snuck up the peloton to take two bonus seconds as he crossed that line first.
The Brit kept his wits about him as he descended into the Andorran capital with his main rivals around him.
Having launched a fairly long rang attack under the 1km mark he looked out of touch as the GC racers turned the corner but as Nibali took the day’s victory Froome worked his way into third, stealing three more bonus seconds, enough to put him in the lead by two seconds.
Froome is used to controlling races with a strong squad and will be relishing the opportunity to ride in the red jersey for the first time since 2011.
Team Sky push the race early on
To force the race into Chris Froome’s favour Team Sky played the game perfectly as they strung the peloton out with a blistering pace on the La Rabassa.
Froome’s men timed it so well as he launched his attack just before the peak of the day’s final climb, Alto de la Comella.
Doing so, Froome found his rivals forcing themselves to race and even though many of his rivals were there come the end of the race, many were found wanting before the descent with Nibali, Bardet and Aru all having to chase to get back on.
Team Sky are a team that prefer to lead the race and this move could make it very hard for other teams to vie for the coveted red jersey.
Contador shows why he is retiring
Once lighting up battles on mountain climbs, Contador struggled to stay in contact today with much of the racing happening further up the road.
At one point Trek-Segafredo sent Peter Stetina back to pace him back into contention but by the time they reached the summit of the Alto de la Comella, the day’s stage was already settled.
Many knew it would be a tough ask to bow out with a Grand Tour win but it’s sad sight to see such an experienced racer struggle so early on.
A short mountain stage early on provides exciting viewing
GC riders were battling it out on the last climb of the day, setting themselves up to fight it out on the final descent. Such a sight was the complete opposite of the Tour de France earlier this year.
With no breakaway occurring in stage two, many fans feared the Vuelta would go the same way as the early stages of the Tour earlier in July, namely the lack of exciting racing.
However, stage three saw all the GC contenders battle it out in a sprint finish, something that racing fans will be relishing everywhere. With nine summit finishes to come in the race, there is plenty more exciting racing to be had.
The Vuelta a España continues with stage four from Escaldes to Tarragona on August 22.