'Nibali will be hard to beat'
Garmin-Sharp team manager Jonathan Vaughters believes Vincenzo Nibali will be hard to beat at the Tour de France after opening up a sizeable early lead on his rivals for overall victory.
Nibali took the yellow jersey by winning stage two in Sheffield and then made significant gains on his fellow general classification contenders with a superb performance over cobbles on stage five.
The Italian has a two-second cushion over his Astana team-mate Jakob Fuglsang in the overall standings, but leads Richie Porte by 1min 54sec, Alejandro Valverde by 2min 11sec and Alberto Contador by 2min 37sec.
Nibali, who can become only the sixth rider in history to win all three Grand Tours with victory at the Tour, also appears to be getting back to his best form after a poor first half of the season, and Vaughters doubts whether he can now be hauled back.
He said: "He is obviously riding better than he has the rest of the year. From appearances, it seems like he is in a much better state than he was earlier in the year.
"I think those two minutes are hard to bring back. I think he will be able to control the race. He won the Giro d'Italia last year, that wasn't just pure luck."
One thing working against Nibali is that he will have to defend the yellow jersey for almost the entire race, which is likely to be draining for both himself and his team-mates.
The team holding the yellow jersey is traditionally called upon to control the pace on the front of the peloton and chase down breakaways, and it is generally seen as desirable not to gain the lead until the second week of the race at the earliest.
However, Astana team manager Alexandre Vinokourov insisted it would not be a stumbling block for Nibali or the team.
"It's not a problem at all to have the yellow jersey so early in the race,\" he said. "For some riders it's too much pressure to handle, but not for Vincenzo. It's clear that he is the big favourite of the Tour.\"