SHEFFIELD, England – Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali displayed his riding smarts at the Tour de France, winning Stage 2 on Sunday and taking the yellow jersey after a well-choreographed attack on rivals in the post-industrial English city known for “The Full Monty.”
The Astana team leader nicknamed “The Shark” for his road savvy took the final lead in a cycling dance of sorts with other title hopefuls, who took turns in front in the last stretch through a sea of fans from York to Sheffield.
Nibali, 29, perhaps had more at stake: He has won the Italian Giro and Spain’s Vuelta, but has never captured cycling’s showcase event.
The victory on Sunday gave him both his first Tour stage win and yellow jersey, and sent a message that he could contend to take it home from Paris in three weeks.
With about a mile left, Nibali escaped a 21-man breakaway bunch at the end of the 125-mile course over nine heath-covered hills of Yorkshire, and held off their late surge. England is hosting the first three Tour stages this year.
Kittel falls back
Marcel Kittel, a powerful German sprinter who often struggles on climbs, trailed nearly 20 minutes back and lost the yellow jersey that he had captured by winning Stage 1.
While the Italian won the battle to the line, under the shadow of a black Sheffield Forgemasters tower, defending champion Chris Froome of Britain and two-time winner Alberto Contador of Spain are focusing more on the overall race – which ends July 27 on Paris’ Champs-Elysees.
Overall, Nibali leads 20 other riders by 2 seconds, including Froome in fifth place and Contador in eighth.
A six-man breakaway bunch tried its chances early, but got swallowed up by the pack with some 20 miles left. Then, the big race stars moved to the front, splitting the pack.
Contador, Froome, and Americans Andrew Talansky and Tejay van Garderen all spent time at the front.
“In the finale, a lot of contenders were making moves: Nibali ended up taking 2 seconds on us,” Froome said. “It’s not a big margin. For me, it was about staying out of trouble to stay at the front, and avoiding any major issues or splits.”
Time to work, Astana
Dave Brailsford, boss of Froome’s Team Sky, said the leaders actually “were all hesitant, because nobody wanted the jersey.” In the cycling playbook, the yellow shirt brings both glory and responsibility. Brailsford said: “Astana will have to now defend it, which is pretty good for anybody else.
“Perfect. They’ve got to work.”
Monday’s stage should be a far less grueling ride: Riders cover 96 miles from university town Cambridge to London, where the pack will finish on the Mall not far from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.