On Thursday, in the first summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles, the Italian star lost 51 seconds to rival Geraint Thomas (Ineos). A result much different than in 2014, when he won on his way to taking the eventual overall title.
"Let's see. I don't know," Nibali said. "I wanted to understand how my form was after the Giro."
Nibali is typically a playful, but cagey one off the bike who will speak until the last minute. On stage six, after racing 160.5 kilometres and finishing behind all of the big stars, he did not want to talk and when he did, it was briefly.
"I was the only [big] rider who did the Giro and is now here," Nibali said. "Mikel Landa was there, and he did that attack and was truly strong in the final, but..."
Nibali went deep in the Giro to try to win a third title by pushing Richard Carapaz (Movistar Team) off the top step. The Ecuadorian prevailed, however, and Nibali ended second best.
After a rest, he raced only the GP Lugano and the Italian Championships in June. However, he believes he knows how to pace himself well towards a major event having won the Tour before, the Giro twice and the Vuelta a España.
He usually does so well, but in the last kilometre today on stage six, the lights began to flicker. His team-mate Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) won the stage from the early escape. In the star group behind, Thomas fired in the final few hundred metres and Nibali faded behind off the back. He never really found his place when the Tour climbed the new gravel sector added on top.
"I felt OK, I just paid in the last piece. But let's say I'm not 100 per cent satisfied with my day, but..." Nibali continued.
"I don't know, it was a tough day – the whole day. Difficult.
"I paid in the final 500 metres, which were very demanding. If you got up you would spin your tyres but you couldn't do much more."
In his favour, the Tour only completed its first big mountain day of many more to come in 2019.
With the bus running, Nibali could not be held longer and mentioned nothing of his team-mate's first stage win in the Tour. He showered as the team celebrated and on the podium, Teuns took the flowers.
"That's it," Nibali said. He had to go, adding, "Ciao."
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