By Jamey Keaten
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 postindustrial 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 perhaps had more at stake: The 29-year-old rider 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.
German loses yellow
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 Nibali 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 two 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. At times, they mustered bursts of speed or zipped across the width of the road in tactical maneuvers.
Crowds for a ‘Classic’
The course Sunday resembled that of historic one-day races known as “classics,” which often feature hilly terrain.
Michael Rodgers, an Australian on Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo Bank team, called it “a bit of a special stage, like the Amstel Gold Race, but with 20 times the people.”
Untold thousands turned out just hours after one of the biggest British stars in the race, Mark Cavendish, dropped out because of pain from a separated right shoulder sustained in a crash Saturday.