Nibali positions himself to within striking distance at the Giro

Astana leader is 14 seconds behind main GC rival Bradley Wiggins entering Tuesday's stage 4

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MARINA DI ASCEA, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) sits pretty in the Giro d’Italia after three days of racing. Entering Tuesday’s stage 4, he trails Bradley Wiggins (Sky) by 14 seconds.

Nibali and his Astana team closed Sunday’s time trial on Ischica only 14 seconds behind Sky. For a climber who should excel in the final week’s mountains, it is a great sign.

“We knew Sky was the team to beat. We had our eyes on them and Movistar, and in fact, they were right up there — first and second. We did very well to place third,” Nibali told VeloNews.

“It went well for us and we rode well, we had a few problems because we lost Alessandro Vanotti. He tried to re-enter, but we didn’t know he was right behind after his chain dropped off. He would’ve been able to give a strong pull or two in the final, he’s very good in these things, but in the end, we had a great result.”

Nibali won Spain’s Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España in 2010. Last year, he placed third behind Wiggins and Chris Froome (Sky) in the Tour de France. This year, the Giro d’Italia is his goal.

The biggest challenge for Nibali to win the Giro could be the time trials. He passed one test well. At the end of this week, travelling through the southern regions, Nibali faces the next test: a 55km time trial from Gabicce Mare to Saltara on Saturday.

“Wiggins [is] a favorite for the time trial, for sure, he’s the best time trial rider here at the Giro,” Nibali said. “The idea is to lose as little as possible Saturday because we have to keep in contact for the mountains. The Giro is long, he can have his great days, but there may be days where he’s not so hot, and that’s where I’ll take advantage of him.”

Nibali and teammate Valerio Agnoli tried to take advantage of Wiggins Monday on the climb before the finish. They joined up with defending champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and went on the offensive. It came to nothing, however.

Astana’s action drew attention away from its problems. In the feed zone, Nibali’s mountains ace Paolo Tiralongo crashed and banged his knee.

“Ryder’s showed he’s strong, maybe it even came easy for him,” Astana’s team manager, Giuseppe Martinelli, told VeloNews. “I’m worried about Paolo, it looks like he may not be able to continue.”

X-rays showed nothing broken, but Tiralongo may struggle to race ahead to the mountains.

High mountains

The race enters the high mountains early next week after the race’s first rest day. The Altopiano del Montasio kicks off a series of mountain stages on Tuesday that will decide the 96th edition.

The Giro d’Italia travels into France to climb the Galibier, cuts east to pass Gavia and Stelvio, and culminates on Tre Cime di Lavaredo at the end of Stage 20. It is Nibali’s terrain, roads for a lightweight, 64kg Sicilian.

“I’m more of a climber than a time trial rider. I’m always trying to get better and better in the mountains because with my weight I have a chance there. I’m able to defend myself well. I’ve had good rides. I’m even able to win in one-day tests,” Nibali said.

“I’ve trained for those mountains, but also for the time trials, trying not to miss out on any critical point. It’s normal, though, when you’re lightweight that it’s hard to go strong in the time trials. On the flats, Wiggins is heavier and he’s able to push bigger gears.”

Fans pulled Nibali away asking for autographs and photos. Along with Salvatore Puccio, Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale), and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), he’s one of them, a southerner. It is their dream to see him win on the podium in Brescia when the Giro concludes May 26.

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