Vincenzo Nibali's rivals will watch and wait in the next two Alpine days of the Tour de France, according to Astana's Giuseppe Martinelli. However, the really significant attacks against the yellow jersey may not come until the Pyrénées mountains that divide France and Spain next week.
"If Richie Porte and Alejandro Valverde attack, it'll only be in the final, close to the finish line," the team manager said. "All three of them will control each other.
"It'll be a waiting game Friday and Saturday. Nibali is going really well, the others know that and just want to control him.
"If he errors a bit, the others are going to pounce, of course."
Nibali let the yellow jersey slip away for one day but put it back on in the Vosges mountains on Monday. He won the stage to La Planche des Belles Filles and took the lead by 2-23 minutes over Sky's Porte. He has 2-47 on Spain's Valverde.
In the two transition stages from the Vosges to the Alps, not much has changed. Lotto's Tony Gallopin won on Wednesday and Katusha's Alexander Kristoff – the Milan-San Remo victor – took Thursday's stage. Friday's stage to Chamrousse promises the next big shake-up with the final 18.2-kilometre climb. Saturday's stage ends with a 12.6-kilometre climb.
"Usually the climbs are straightforward, anything up to a ski village has to be," Porte said in his diary in the Sydney Morning Herald. "Cars have to drive up there. Chamrousse is an average of seven per cent
"I know Saturday's [stage] quite well because we've had training camps there. The last few kilometres are hard. I think, though, that it'll be tactical because a lot of guys are around the same time as I am in the overall."
Martinelli explained that he expects some sort of move from Nibali's rival, but that it will come if his rider weakens.
"Richie will have to try," Martinelli said, "it's too much of a risk to make the wrong move at the wrong time in the Tour."
The moves have to come in the Alps or after the Tour de France travels west in the Pyrénées. According to Martinelli, Nibali can maintain the yellow jersey in the final 54-kilometre time trial if he holds his current 2-23 advantage.
"It could be enough," Martinelli said. "For sure, a few seconds more would be better for us because 54 kilometres on a pretty tough course could turn things upside down. Nibali will have to put up a good defence.
"It depends on how you start it, though. If he takes off and doesn't go too deep in the first 20 kilometres then it should be OK. Porte will be strong, but if Nibali passes the Alps and Pyrénées, then he should be strong enough to hold the jersey to Paris."
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