Nibali. Rain man winneth.
The Critérium du Dauphiné is the traditional Tour de France tune-up. Rev engines, test the legs, check out rivals. For Tour rivals Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Chris Froome (Sky), and Tejay van Garderen, it’s the ideal preview of things to combust in July.
Today in stage 6 from Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur to Villard-de-Lans, Nibali showed his form and also what makes him particularly dangerous to little whippets like Froome.
In a hard rain, down treacherous, slippery descents, the Italian showed once again that he excels in bad weather — conditions in which Froome has consistently struggled and lost races.
In last years’ Tour de France, Froome just couldn’t stay upright, eventually abandoning the race during stage five’s nasty run over the cobblestones. By contrast, Nibali showed his shit weather skills, taking second on the stage and carving out more than two minutes on his GC rivals — a time gap he expanded all the way to Paris and the final maillot jaune.
Whenever there’s a high wind, rainstorm and freezing temperatures, Nibali proves again and again he is the badass. Froome doesn’t possess half the bike handling skills as the Shark — a fact he pointed out last year after his tour victory. “You’ve got to know how to ride your bike,” he said. “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.”
Give todays weather conditions in the Dauphiné, it was no surprise that Froome didn’t fare as well and Nibali took that advantage and the leaders jersey. As cyclingnews described it, Nibali was “attacking through constant rain.”
He went solo on the category three Col de Grimone before Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Tony Martin (Etixx – Quick-Step) and Rui Costa managed to join him. Costa would beat Nibali to the line.
Meanwhile, further back, cold, wet and disappointed, Froome dragged in over two minutes back. Marginal gains seems to work better when the sun is out, the temperatures are warm and the roads are dry.
As Nibali said after his win on the stones in last year’s Tour, “Cycling is about racing on all kinds of conditions. At the Giro d’Italia we get days like this.” Everyone remembers it was Nibali who won the 2013 Giro d’Italia in what was universally described as apocalyptic conditions.
This is why Nibali has to be thrilled with another Tour de France route with a stage over the cobblestones. It’s also why Chris Froome and the Sky Tour braintrust are doing something that their analytics department can’t accomplish: praying for good weather.