They say a solar eclipse can do funny things to animals. Which might explain the reports today of a shark attack in the mountains of Andorra. Over 100km away from the nearest body of salt water as the moon crossed the sun.
The sharks name was Vincenzo Niabli, and it was a predatory attack of stealth precision.. I am speaking of his victory on today’s stage at the Vuelta, of course. Dropped on the final climb he used the descent to make the catch. And once among them he didn’t hesitate. He chewed them up and spat them out, crossing the line with a visible gap; his had mimicking a sharks fin.
It was a surprise outcome given what was unfolding only minutes before. It was only a category two climb but it was the first telling climb of the race and markers had to be laid down. Team Sky hit the climb hard and fast and when Chris Froome attacked, only Esteban Chaves could go with him. Romain Bardet, Fabio Aru, Nibali and all those in contention for this Vuelta were in trouble. But the climb was short and Froome’s effort fierce. Those who didn’t panic still stood a chance. Over the summit, Froome and Chaves only had about ten seconds on Aru and Bardet.
It was here you would expect Bardet to lead the chase given his descending skills. But it was Aru who led the effort and they soon bridged across. Off the climb and the pack of five behind also made the juncture. And that pack contained Nibali who smelt blood. Froome made a big dig but when it came to nothing and Aru made a bid on the right, Nibali went hard on the left. He got a gap and he held it through the final few hundred metres. In the end he snatched his victory from the jaws of defeat. He turned what looked like a day of losing time into a stage win.
For a while it looked like everyone would be counting time losses to Froome. In the end eight others finished with him including most of those expecting to win this race. The biggest loser was Alberto Contador, riding his final race, he lost 2 minutes 33 seconds. Already he is having to consider ambush tactics to get back into this race. That or going for stage wins.
And spare a word for Canadian, Mike Woods. He was best of the rest coming in 25 seconds behind the leading nine along with Adam Yates. His twin brother, Simon Yates trailed in 4 seconds later. Woods now sits 12th in the general classification, 1 minute 13 seconds behind Froome.
The question to ask though is what kind of effort Froome put in? It’s clear now that he’s on form. That he’s peaking early in this race and he wants to get the damage done while the going is good. It’s the opposite to this years Tour in many ways. But when he did attack the gap he opened wasn’t enormous and they caught him on the descent. Was this move to thin the field a little, but keeping something in reserve for later? Or did it show that while having good legs, the others aren’t far behind. This short climb can be misleading though. It won’t be until they hit the longer climbs, with a summit finish, that we’ll get a true sense of the pecking order here. But if anything Froome sent a psychological message to his rivals. The shark may have won, but it was Froome who pulled on the red leaders jersey. It’s the Sky man who will feel most confident.
General classification after stage 3:
1. Chris Froome in 8h53’44”
2. David de la Cruz (Quick-Step) +2″
3. Nicolas Roche (BMC)
4. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) both same time
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) +10″
6. Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) +11″
12. Michael Woods (Cannondale) +1’13”