Favourites agree tougher Tour tests ahead after Nibali win
Spain's Alberto Contador (C) rides in the pack with his teammates of Russia's Tinkoff-Saxo cycling team during the 201 km second stage of the 101th edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 6, 2014 between York and Sheffield - by Eric Feferberg
Nibali took the leader's yellow jersey after finishing two seconds clear of his rivals in winning the hilly 201km ride from York to Sheffield in northern England.
With just 1.5km left he broke away from a reduced field of just 20 elite riders who had managed to keep pace over the gruelling succession of nine categorised climbs throughout more than five hours of racing.
But Nibali played down the significance to his overall chances and denied he felt any measure of revenge on those who have written that he is merely a sideshow to the expected battle between Froome and Contador.
"It didn't bother me at all because this is just what the press writes," said the 29-year-old, a former winner of both the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana.
"I've always believed in my chances, I came here to do my best and with this win I think I've already shown a good sign.
"Of course the Tour doesn't finish here, there's still a long way to go. I'm calm and confident."
What was noticeable was that all three of the favourites attacked at some point or other in the final six kilometres.
"In the end we all tried something because we were afraid of the long finish," added Nibali, the Italian champion.
"Alberto also tried to set a good pace up the (final) climb and Froome pushed it on a bit, it seemed like he was attacking (for the stage win).
"Then there was an attack from (Nibali's teammate) Jakob Fuglsang a few kilometres out and (Peter) Sagan closed it down. Then it calmed down a bit but then 1.5km out I found space to try my luck."
Nibali added: "When it was all stretched out that's when I found the chance to try and also get the gap to go to the end.
"It's never easy to break away like this, also because there was a lot of wind in final kilometre and I was worried it would push me backwards."
Reigning champion Froome, 29, said he was merely trying to ensure he stayed up the front when he pushed on just before cresting the final, brutal 800m Jenkin Road climb 5km from the finish.
"Even if I attacked in the finale, my goal was to stay in the front and reach the finish line without a problem," said the Kenyan-born Briton, who rides for Team Sky.
"It was a tough day but the support of the crowd was massive. I can tell you I'm tired and I hope everybody else is tired as well."
Twice former winner Contador was the first to stretch his legs on the final fourth category climb and it was his dig that sorted out the top 20 riders from the rest.
"Today was a day when you had to be careful, you had to manage and control things but also test your strength," said the 31-year-old Spaniard and Tinkoff-Saxo leader.
"I think it went well and I'm happy because it really wasn't easy.
"The most important thing was to have a good finishing position and there are still many stages to come."