In a race where the top four riders
are separated by just nine seconds, it's probably fair to say that every second
counts in this year's Vuelta.
Which is precisely why defending
champion Vincenzo Nibali used his trademark swift descending skills to nick the
first intermediate sprint and, rather cheekily, the six bonus seconds that went
with it at the start of a frantic stage 13.
Nobody expected such audacity from a
rider who, before the stage, claimed: "I'm not going to attack today. I
won't attack in the other mountain stages either. I'd rather wait and see what
the best course of action is. If I see my rivals are suffering, then I will
But it was a tactic that served the
Sicilian "Shark of the Straight" well as he pulled off a micro-coup
that could have a macro-effect come next week.
Rather than taking one big bite, the
Shark is nibbling his way towards the blood-red jersey of current race leader
Read the following time breakdown
with the famous slow-building theme music from the film Jaws running through
Daaa-da: After Monday's ITT, Nibali
was 31 seconds down on the top.
Daaa-da, daaa-da: The next day at
Manzaneda, Nibali took back 20 seconds to lie 11 down.
Daaa-da: On Thursday Nibali took
back a further solitary second.
Daaa-da: On Friday he picked up
another six. Despite a glitch that somehow showed Nibali lose 20 seconds to
Wiggins on the initial official results, the 26-year-old is now just four
seconds off the summit.
We all know what comes next: the
burst lilo, the screams, the kicking and spluttering, the sea turning red...
Nibali is poised to go in for the kill.
Of course, he could already be the
peloton's big fish. Had his Liquigas team-mate Valerio Agnoli not deprived him
of the third-place on the day Peter Sagan notched his first Grand Tour win last
week, Nibs would have a four-second advantage at the top of the standings.
Sniffing out a kill, Nibs wasn't
content with merely picking up the six bonus seconds on Friday. At one point,
on the descent of the Almares pass, Nibali latched onto the wheel of surprise
Swedish package Fredrik Kessiakoff and piled on more pressure on Wiggins.
Sky responded well, but at one point
they were 40-odd seconds in arrears and it could have been very
The next couple of the days, with
their back-to-back summit finishes, should see some fireworks - and if the top
four are still separated by just nine seconds on Sunday evening, then Saddles
will eat his own left hand.
- Vincenzo Nibali