When Vincenzo Nibali and his Boys From Bahrain went to the front near the summit of Collado Bermejo, everybody watching knew what was gong to happen next. It was stage 10, a tricky decent and Nibali Time.
Sure enough, Nibali was first over the top and then he attacked the descent on wet, winding roads in an attempt to gain time back on race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) and rivals like Esteban Chavez (Orica-Scott).
The Italian is a masterful and fearless descender and he had hoped to force Froome to take risks on the tight turns and perhaps cause a crash or mechanical that would put Nibali back on top.
However, with a 1:17 cushion on Nibali, 1:05 on Nicolas Roche (BMC) and 36 seconds on Chavez, Froome simply played it smart and refused to take that bait. Nibali did indeed slip away but Froome lost no time and his wheels did not slip out from under him. No reason to panic or hyperventilate.
“For me personally, I wasn’t prepared to take any risks today, I was happy just to go down a little more easy with my teammates. I knew there was a lot of road between the bottom of the climb and the finish if we really had to do that,” said Froome. No, he really didn’t have to that.
The Shark from Messina is to be applauded for his aggression. At least he made the attempt and Nibali has pulled out some big performances going downhill faster than his rivals. Once upon a time, Froome was not a talented descender, but he has since improved his bike handling skills to a significant degree.
Nibali won the 2014 Tour de France when both Froome and Alberto Contador crashed out of the race. The Italian later questioned Froome’s ability to keep himself upright. “Cycling isn’t only about watts, power and strength on the climbs. You’ve got to know how to ride your bike,” said Nibali. “Froome laid it down three times in two days. I don’t know if that’s normal, if it was just bad luck or if he doesn’t know how to ride his bike.”
Well, these days and three years on, Froome does indeed know how to ride his Pinarello. In the last two years, he has made a point of attacking on downhill slopes, picking up invaluable time in Le Tour on several occasions.
Nibali did slip away for a handful of seconds and a hundred meters or so, but Froome isn’t letting anyone slip away for long — going uphill or down.