Italian Vincenzo Nibali attacked the descent finish in the Vuelta a España‘s 10th stage to Alhama de Murcia, but says that wet roads covered with pine needles ruined his chances of distancing race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Nibali led the group over the final climb at 21.8km to race and tried to go solo on the Bermejo descent to the finish, but was unable to get away from his general classification rivals.
Ahead, fellow Italian Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) won his second stage in this Vuelta from an early escape. Froome remains the leader with Nibali fourth at 1-17 minutes.
“On the descent there were many pine needles and I couldn’t push it too much,” Nibali said. “I was able to gain some time but the road did not allow you to have much speed.
“We tried to see if something would happen but it wasn’t possible. Everybody was right there behind me and nothing happened.”
The road down the Bermejo switched back and forth several times. From the helicopter television shot, it appeared a cyclist’s dream. However, early morning rain and shoulders covered with fallen pine tree needles made it difficult for the rider known as ‘The Shark’, renowned for his descending capabilities.
His Sicilian team-mate Giovanni Visconti said, “Nibali tried but clearly is not easy to gain time because the road, though it was nice, was a little bit wet and maybe you didn’t want to take all the risk because it wasn’t necessary.”
Watch: Vuelta a España stage 10 highlights
In an usual move in the 2017 Vuelta, another team besides Sky led the group up the final climb as Bahrain-Merida drove with three rides for its Grand Tour star.
“Everyone knew about the dangerous descent, so we wanted to try but not risk too much,” sports director Gorazd Stangelj added.
“That’s why Nibali did not get a gap. It was an occasion for us and we tried on the top of the climb. I was hoping some other team would try to do something on the climb with us, but it seems that everybody’s already thinking about tomorrow. That’s the only explanation I can see.”
Everyone’s minds now turn to Wednesday, the race’s first high-mountain summit finish to Calar Alto at 2120 metres.
“It was a good occasion to try today, but it’s just not easy to do,” Nibali continued. “Tomorrow is very difficult again and that’s it pretty hard climb.
“In the first week we had many explosive type of climbs and honestly, I was worn out a few times and I couldn’t defend myself as best as I wanted to and lost 10 or 30 seconds here and there, but I feel that I’m good and I have good condition on these climbs coming up. Maybe we can do something but it won’t be easy because Sky’s pretty solid.”
“From here what starts a phase that’s more adapted to us as a team,” Visconti added. “Already you saw that we were a little bit more alive today.
“The Vuelta is still long, and maybe even harder than it has been so far. We’ve had some very hard stages, but for those attacking, explosive riders. The next days are suited to different riders like us.”