Why didn’t Nibali ride, part 1. The Baldwin take.

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“I’m not angry. I don’t expect anyone to race my race, everyone is racing their own race.” That was Chris Baldwin of Bissel Pro Cycling trying to explain why Vincenzo Nibali did jack in the breakaway.

This morning in Montrose, Baldwin told me his preperation for the US Pro Cycling Challenge wasn’t “optimal.” Although he did top 15 on GC last year, the Boulder, Colorado rider wasn’t sure he had the same legs. The lower extremities can be so hard to predict.

Despite his questionable legs, Baldwin was still opportunistic enough to get stage two to Crested Butte off to a bang by jumping in a high profile breakaway that jacks a time gap out to four minutes. Baldwin finds himself with nine top riders including Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) who was third in Le Grand Shindig in France.

It was a scary powerhouse break that had Dave Zabriskie and Alex Howes of Garmin-Sharp, Rafael Infantino (EPM-Une), sixth overall in last years’ US Pro Cycling Challenge, Craig Lewis (Champion Systems) and Mathias Frank (BMC Racing). If yesterday was, to quote Garmin-Sharp’s Jonathan Vaughters, “Damn the torpedoes,” well, this break was another surprisingly aggressive BDSM smack in the face.

That was, except for the Italian dead weight, the Anchor from Messina, the Shark that choses not to ride. “For the most part, there was a lot of cooperation, I’ve seen a lot less — on the other hand there could have been more,” said Baldwin. “Nibali wasn’t working and then yelling at other guys for not working — which was ironic — considering our salary discrepancies and differences in resumes.”

The gap fell from four minutes to two and then one as the break hit the outskirts of Crested Butte. For a while it looked like the kind of miracle day a rider like Baldwin on a domestic US squad dreams about in his sleep or those long, solitary training rides.

“Oh yeah, I really though we were gonna stick it. When we had four minutes, whew, I knew we’d lose a lot on the final hill but do the math — 10k, four minutes, it looked pretty good,” said Baldwin. “I though we had a very good chance.”

Despite the low-energy presence of Nibali, Baldwin couldn’t help but think this was that perfect positive storm of circumstance, tactics and just plain fools’ luck. When he started calculating the outcomes, it was hard not to think big in that champagne and podium girl way. “You got to tell yourself better than top ten. The second negativity creeps in, that’s when you get dropped,” said Baldwin. “You have to tell yourself, A — this break is gonna work, and B — I’m gonna win.”

Baldwin is a veteran who knows the physical power of positive thinking. Last year on the stage five climb of Swan Mountain, Baldwin was knocked off his bike by a clueless and probably drunk fan. He remounted, caught back onto the main group on the descent, and preserved his GC position.

Baldwin is not going to get bitter about riders not doing enough work to amp his chances of victory. “I feel like Zabriskie did a ton of work but Howe was playing possum all day — he obviously had legs,” said Baldwin. “The Colombians spent a lot of time sitting on as well. But if you want to win, you have to save some energy. You can’t get upset about that.”

Baldwin’s DS at Bissel Omer Kem saw things from a different tactical perspective. “I think Nibali being there was more of a bluff. It takes pressure off his team to control the race. I think you saw some of the inner workings of ProTour teams. Maybe his new team (ed– Astana) is chasing behind,” said Kem. “I don’t think he did any effort today. It wasn’t hard on him at all.” Kem paused for a second and then nailed the Nibali question: “He’s probably on vacation.”

While Craig Lewis of Champion Systems would finish the stage frustrated and annoyed with Nibali’s efforts, Baldwin takes a more philosophical view. “If you’re gonna win that stage out of that group you have to do something. You have to ride conservatively — nobody is a robot — you can’t just chop off hard all day and try to win,” said Baldwin. “I’m not angry.”

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