The idea that Vincenzo Nibali is somehow not a deserving or worthy champion appears to be growing since Chris Froome and Alberto Contador were both forced out of the Tour de France due to injury.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

This is the perplexing narrative that is developing around this year's Tour de France and it's one that needs to be immediately snuffed out.

While it may be an interesting debating point it's also utter rubbish, but at least one loud-mouth team owner is using his bully pulpit to spread a bit of manure around, giving the idea traction.

Since the abandonment of Contador, Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov has repeatedly said that his team leader would now be in yellow heading into the last rest day. Of course he'll never know. Thankfully Team Sky's David Brailsford has been more generous in his assessment of what might have been if Chris Froome was still in the race.

"Coulda, woulda, shoulda" is usually an excuse trotted out by the guy who finished second or third. Now, Tinkov's team won't even be that close.

Astana's Vincenzo Nibali is no B-grader, he's a rider who has two Grand Tours to his name, and a whole lot of other races. And while he has not yet won the Tour, he has been at least the equal to Froome and Contador across several seasons without seriously going head-to-head in France.

Let's not forget that in 2012 Nibali was third behind Bradley Wiggins and Froome at the Tour. Maybe Tinkov was too preoccupied at the time with cruising on his yacht and drinking champagne when that happened.

At 29 Nibali is pretty much at his peak, close to the average age of all Tour de France winners. Look at his history and you see a rider methodically rising to this exact moment. Now he is on the cusp of being one of the few riders to win all three Grand Tour's in a career.

This was Nibali's first boots-and-all tilt at adding the biggest Grand Tour to his palmarès against two riders and teams regarded as the best at their craft. He gambled an entire season of success on this year's race, something he has not done before. And it shows.

His early dominance was established when he mastered the cobbles. He looked like he belonged while Froome and Contador did not. That did not happen by accident; it was preparation, talent and skill which gave him an advantage and it became his launching pad to dominate the race.

One can argue that it was his excellence on Stage 5 which put Froome and Contador under psychological pressure. After that stage it was up to them to make the race because it was obvious Nibali meant business. Now, neither has made it to the end of the Tour.

Nibali's early racecraft was partly responsible for both Froome and Contador leaving the race in a box, but because of Tinkov's bloviating, he remains in the nonsense position of having to defend himself and his position in the Tour.

"I don't see why my lead at the Tour de France would be less valuable because Alberto Contador and Chris Froome aren't here anymore," said Nibali after Stage 14.

"Oleg Tinkov said Alberto would be in yellow by now without his crash, we all know Tinkov's temper.

"I've gained time in important parts of the race, like on the roads of Paris-Roubaix. I feel sorry for what happened to the others. Unfortunately, crashes are part of cycling.

"It also happened yesterday to my team-mate Jakob Fuglsang, who crashed pretty heavily. All I know is that I worked very seriously with my coach Paolo Slongo. I came here with good form and the intention to fight till the end.

"I notice that riders who were ahead of me at the Dauphiné are behind at the Tour. Last year I won the Giro, I came second at the Vuelta and I beat Froome and Contador at almost all the races I did with them."

It's that last comment which gives the lie to Tinkov's graceless posturing. Nibali has always belonged and now he's showing the world just how much.

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