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He was off the pace in the Critérium du Dauphiné but Vincenzo Nibali has said his morale and confidence is high after he raced to a superb solo victory on stage two of the Tour de France on Sunday.
“I have to say that I am feeling very, very happy today,” the Italian said after receiving the Maillot Jaune. “It is a really good feeling. I have been blessed because I am one of the people who could wear the leader’s jersey from the Giro, the Vuelta and now the yellow jersey from the Tour de France. Very few people can say that they wore these jerseys.
“I am very good shape. This victory is very important for me, Italy, the staff and the team.”
Nibali underlined his Grand Tour class when he won the Vuelta a España at 25 years ago in 2010. Last season he added a second three week stage race to his palmares when he triumphed in the Giro d’Italia.
He had opted for that race over the Tour despite finishing third overall in 2012. However, this year, he was intent on returning to the French event. Thus far things are going perfectly to plan.
“In the final kilometres all the riders tried to attack. Alberto was the first one with a very strong attack. Froome too tried to control and attack. Fuglsang attacked at four kilometres in order to drop Sagan. I had a great chance to attack at the right moment and I could win the stage.”
Sagan might have been expected to wait for a sprint from the select main group but instead he struck out early. Nibali was relieved that the Cannondale rider had a go when he did, given that it left him exposed when he was hauled back.
“I think that Sagan’s attack was a very good one,” he said. “Afterwards Fuglsang tried to get away. This morning we talked about it and we wanted to try to drop Sagan.
“I have to say it is never easy to attack in the last kilometres. Especially today it was very, very tough as the wind was blowing very strongly. It was a very difficult victory.”
Nibali launched his move inside the final two kilometres. He’s known as an opportunistic rider but few would have expected him to go where he did. Once clear he was fully committed and ended up with a two second advantage over the remainder of the riders who had been in the front group.
Given his strength and tactical sense, he was asked if he is angry at not being considered before the race along the same lines as Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.
“That is no problem for me,” he answered. “I am in good shape and I came here to do my best. I think the Tour de France doesn’t stop here with that yellow jersey.
“We have almost three weeks to go and we have very tough and tricky stages. Having the yellow jersey is very good but it is a long race. The most important place to have it is in Paris.”
The real test of Nibali’s form will come in the mountain stages of the Tour. He has already shown in the past that he is one of the very best climbers in the sport when he is on form; he proved that in winning the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
CyclingTips asked him how his form compared to when he took that race. “I think it is very difficult to prepare. My preparation has been practically the same,” he said. “I must say that I am in really good shape. We have to see day by day, but I think it is very difficult to compare.”