When Vincenzo Nibali launched him winning attack in Il Lombardia, the final monument of the season, he had to be thinking one thing: Thank God, there aren’t five Team Sky riders right on my wheel like in the Tour de France.
The Tour was almost three months ago and the bad memories were probably still lodged front and center in the Italian’s brain when he jumped out with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) on the climb of the Civiglio. There wasn’t a Sky rider in sight as both riders ripped down the descent, Nibali opening and extending his gap over Pinot.
In the last gasp mountain stage of the Tour de France, Nibali, having given up attacking eventual winner Chris Froome on the climbs, tried to pick up some time on a wet descent. Despite his proven skills as one of the best descenders in the peloton, the Italian crashed and was fortunate to save his podium place.
Il Lombardia was a different race altogether. No Froome, no Skybots, no sense of hopelessness. Nibali was free to attack, full of confidence that there was no big budget squad of stacked talent ready to chase him down and ruin his day.
Nibali is a man who races on instinct, not on the read-out on his power meter. Like Alberto Contador, he likes to strike when the moment presents itself. “The summit of the Civiglio is the most important moment and I knew I had to go for it. I also knew that everyone was marking me because I’d see Quintana go after me when I made an earlier move,” said Nibali. “When the others didn’t respond to [Thibaut] Pinot’s attack, I knew it was the right moment.
It was the right moment and also a far simpler task. “My first Il Lombardia win was obviously special and it was harder; I’d never won it. This time it all seemed easier. Compared to two years ago I was on better form, I felt better in the finale,” said Nibali. “
Key sentence: “This time it all seemed easier.” He was comparing his second Lombardi win to his first in 2015 but he could equality have been referencing his experiences in Le Tour. Nibali has made his reputation as a stage racer and has won all three grand tours. However, you’d have to wonder, given the dominance and superiority of Froome in any three week race, whether Nibali might entertain a bigger focus on one day races like Lombardia and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
That might actually seem easier.