Blazin' Saddles

Liquigas explosion

Blazin' Saddles

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The
Vuelta's second TTT was won by Liquigas on Thursday after the team of Italian
defending champion Vincenzo Nibali blew stage six apart in Cordoba.

Led over
the line by Slovakian sensation Peter Sagan, Liquigas clocked by far the best
time of all their rival teams in southern Spain - although oddly enough, they
seemed to have picked up Movistar veteran Pablo Lastras along the way.

Instead of
celebrating their barnstorming TTT win, however, Liquigas inexplicably turned
on themselves, with horse-faced defending champion Vincenzo Nibali
gesticulating and Sagan looking rather sheepish under those impressively dark
and bushy eyebrows of his.

Then
Saddles realised his mistake: this was no TTT; this was a regular stage in
which Liquigas had quite astonishingly taken four of the first five spots after
a pulsating descent off the back of the final climb of the day.

We knew
Nibs was a reckless descender - but it's clearly rubbed off on the rest of the
team, as Valerio Agnoli, Eros Capecchi and Sagan all latched onto the Shark's
wheel and blew the peloton apart.

But with
the sudden prospect of Nibali taking the red jersey - what with Sylvain
Chavanel riding 15-odd seconds back and 20 bonus seconds up for grabs at the
finish - things got rather confused.

All
Nibali's fellow sprightly Italians, plus the young buck Sagan, had to do was
hold off old-timer Lastras and guide their leader to victory - or at least a
top-three place. Simple, surely?

Losing a
stage with such favourable odds stacked in your favour would have been
tantamount to Leonardo DiCaprio walking into a nightclub in the mid-90s and
failing to pull - or to a curried bratwurst vendor failing to attracts the
roving eye of Jan Ullrich after a night out on the town.

And yet
Liquigas still almost contrived to finish with egg all over their face.

What the
team didn't seem to bank on was Lastras actually having a pop - and when it
became apparent that Nibali had no sprinting legs, and wasn't going to get any
direction from Agnoli, Sagan took the matter into his own hands and snatched
one of the easiest victories of his stellar season.

Never has
there been a more muted maiden Grand Tour victory for a 21-year-old less than a
week into his first three-week stage race. What should have been a monumental
moment for one of the most promising riders of his generation descended into
farce as a sheepish Sagan felt too embarrassed to celebrate knowing that things
had not exactly gone according to plan.

Meanwhile,
a disgruntled Nibali made his feelings known with a medley of hand gestures
before sharing some choice words with both his good friend Agnoli and the
upstart Sagan.

You see,
after such a thrilling set-up, Liquigas had made a complete hash of delivering
the killer blow: with 20, 12 and 8 bonus seconds available to the first three
riders, Nibali had missed out with his fourth-place finish.

And yet, as
Sagan insinuated to reporters at the finish, a Liquigas win was hardly cause
for doom and gloom. "Yes, it would have been better if Vincenzo had had
won," he said, "but it was better that a Liquigas rider won rather
than Lastras."

If you ask
Saddles, it actually worked out rather well. Granted, Agnoli should have let
Nibali take third place for those eight seconds (which would have put the
defending champion in second place in the GC, eight seconds down on Chavanel),
but when it comes to Madrid, those eight seconds are in all likelihood hardly
going to mean a thing.

Certainly,
there should be no barbs aimed at Sagan, who's looking more and more like the
next Philippe Gilbert as the days go by. He may have been the youngest rider in
the break, but he was the only Liquigas rider who showed any initiative - and
his quick thinking actually managed to save the team's blushes.

What's
more, why would Nibali want to move into the red jersey now? It would only put
more pressure on his team to control the race, and they're doing pretty well as
it is without being further in the spotlight.

Returning
to the start of this blog: had this actually been a Team Time Trial, then
Liquigas would have had to wait for their fifth man to cross the line before
celebrating.

Seeing that
their fifth man, Damiano Caruso, rode home in the peloton 23 seconds down, then
the fictitious second TTT would probably been tied because numerous teams had
five riders that featured in the 44-strong main bunch. Still, they looked the
business on Thursday, it has to be said.

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