Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) has said he expects Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) to challenge him for the King of the Mountains classification at the Tour de France 2019.
The Belgian has held the polka dot jersey since stage three, after getting in the day’s break and sweeping up KoM points during his time off the front.
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Since then the 28-year-old has continued to animate the race, placing himself in moves or getting team-mates to challenge potential competitors for points in what has been a clear indication that he intends to fight for the jersey all the way to Paris.
However, as the race heads into the mountains, and the points available at summits massively increase as the peloton takes on HC-category climbs, purer climbers than the Belgian will become interested in challenging Wellens and taking the jersey off of his shoulders.
On stage 14, Wellens once again got himself up the road, targeting the category one Col du Soulor to try and limit his losses, before the GC contenders took over and battled for the 40 KoM points available at the top of the Tourmalet’s summit finish.
However, Nibali had attacked from the flag drop, getting himself in the break alongside Wellens, sticking with him until 400m to the summit of the Soulor until the Belgian rode the Italian off his wheel to take maximum points.
There are still many mountains and KoM points available before the Champs-Élysées, though, and Wellens expects Nibali to be one of his main challengers for the prize.
“Nibali is now a clear candidate for the KoM,” Wellens said, “I already said yesterday that I’d target the Soulor only and it worked out. I wanted to make the breakaway. The battle for the breakaway didn’t long.”
Wellens says he knew the 2014 Tour de France winner was interested in the polka dot jersey even before they started climbing the Soulor, saying: “I realized that Vincenzo Nibali was interested in the polka dot jersey when he even went for the fourth category climb. My sport director told me to pay attention to his attack on the Soulor.
“Now it’s clear that he’s a candidate for the King of the Mountains.”