Is Vincenzo Nibali’s chance of 2013 Vuelta win slipping away?

Vincenzo Nibali’s dream of winning a third Grand Tour is far from certain. Today, the Italian of Team Astana was unable to follow when his rivals pounced in the Vuelta a España’s summit finish to the Aramón Formigal ski resort.

Nibali won the Vuelta overall in 2010. This year, he beat Rigoberto Urán (Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) to claim the Giro d’Italia title. Over the weekend, he appeared set to claim his third Grand Tour. He survived two gruelling days as classification number one, including the frigid stage in Andorra on Saturday when 14 riders abandoned. The extended weekend, though, proved to be too much for The Shark today.

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In the final two kilometres, Nibali was isolated and rivals Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took advantage. First Valverde, who sits third overall, and then Horner, second, shot away. Nibali lost 25 seconds to the former and 22 to the latter. He began the day with 50 seconds in hand, but now leads with a slim 28-second margin to Horner heading into the race’s second rest day.

“That was a very difficult final,” Nibali said after crossing the line. The winds blew, he commented on the strong headwind during the last kilometres. “The finish was steep. I began to feel a little off in the final three kilometres.”

Nibali said that he has been feeling good in this Vuelta and that his team has worked hard to keep his lead. Today, though, was the first time that his grip on the red leader’s jersey looked weak. It may give hope to 41-year-old American, Horner, or Spain’s Valverde. Clearly, Nibali welcomes the rest day. He will be able to reflect on his last two Grand Tour wins and to think about what is needed to pull through the final five days.

The sprinters have their chance on Wednesday before the Vuelta travels the high roads again. The race finishes in Peña Cabarga on Thursday, where Chris Froome won in 2011. On Saturday, it climbs one of cycling’s most feared climbs, the Angliru. They are heavy days with only 28 seconds separating Nibali from his nearest rival.

“We are still optimistic about the coming days,” added Nibali. “It’s going to be a hard final week. This Vuelta is starting to feel very long, with the transfers, with the pressure of the leader’s jersey.”

Nibali developed and gained experience to deal with the pressure. He dominated one of the toughest Giros weather-wise in years this May while his rivals scrapped for the remaining podium spots. In 2010, after helping Ivan Basso win the Giro, he out-lasted Joaquím Rodríguez and withstood Ezequiel Mosquera’s attacks on the Bola del Mundo climb.

“The Vuelta and my third place at the Giro [in 2010] taught me that I could win the Giro,” Nibali said in May. He now pulls on all of his Grand Tour experience, including third last year in the Tour de France behind Bradley Wiggins and Froome, to win the 2013 Vuelta a España.

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