Nibali’s Tour de­fence no smooth ride this early on

Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT - JEROME PUGMIRE

VIN­CENZO Nibali is mak­ing a patchy start to his Tour de France ti­tle de­fence, and if yesterday’s eighth stage is any­thing to go by it may not get much bet­ter in the moun­tains.

Nibali lost another 10 sec­onds to race leader Chris Froome, the 2013 cham­pion, on the short and sharp fi­nal climb up Mur de Bre­tagne, set­ting off alarm bells in the Ital­ian’s As­tana team.

While the stage was won by Alexis Vuiller­moz to give France a first vic­tory in this year’s race, it was the way Nibali was dropped on a dis­tance of 2km that had peo­ple talk­ing.

“I don’t un­der­stand what hap­pened,’’ As­tana man­ager Giuseppe Martinelli said.

‘‘ Hope­fully this was just a bad day, oth­er­wise this Tour will be dif­fi­cult.

“Our team should de­liver a per­fect per­for­mance in to­mor­row’s team time trial, we can’t make more mis­takes.”

Nibali al­ready trails Froome by 1 minute, 48 sec­onds and riders have yet to tackle the high moun­tains.

Two- time cham­pion Al­berto Con­ta­dor, for­mer run- ner- up Nairo Quin­tana, and Amer­i­can rider Te­jay Van Garderen also helped them­selves to 10 sec­onds on Nibali.

In the over­all clas­si­fi­ca­tion, this means that Froome still leads Van Garderen by 13 sec­onds, Con­ta­dor by 36 and Quin­tana by 1: 56.

Be­fore the climbs, start­ing on Wed­nes­day with the first of three con­sec­u­tive days in the Pyre­nees, the weary riders must tackle the team time trial – where Froome’s yel­low jersey will be un­der se­ri­ous threat from Van Garderen, who is shap­ing up as a dan­ger­ous out­sider.

Times in a team time trial are taken from the fifth rider cross­ing the line.

The un­du­lat­ing 28km route fin­ishes with a 1.7km as­cent.

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