Italian Nibali, nicknamed the Shark, won the 201-kilometre second stage from York to Sheffield, launching an attack following the brutal climb of Jenkin Road 5km from the finish, and seized the yellow jersey in the process.
The Astana rider — third behind Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in the 2012 Tour and winner of the 2013 Giro d’Italia — has a long-term goal.
Le Tour Yorkshire is now complete — Tour director Christian Prudhomme estimated there were five million spectators over two days — and with 19 stages still to race Nibali knows there is plenty of drama to come.
“My main goal is to get a good result at the end of the Tour de France,” said Nibali, who has now led all three Grand Tours.
“I don’t want to lose my head. The Tour is a very hard race.
“I’m superstitious so I don’t want to say that I’ll win the overall.
“We have almost three weeks to go. For sure the Tour de France doesn’t finish here.
“(But) I’m delighted to get the yellow jersey after having won the red jersey at the Vuelta a Espana and the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia.”
Yesterday began on a disappointing note with the news that Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) had withdrawn following his horror crash the day before.
The Manxman would not have relished a day as challenging as yesterday, with nine categorised climbs to negotiate — five in the final 60km — and numerous more ascents in between.
His sprint rival Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) — who wore the yellow jersey yesterday after winning Saturday’s opener — endured a brief and torrid stay as race leader, finishing almost 20 minutes behind Nibali.
Kittel knew his chances of retaining the lead were remote and slipped out of the back of a rampaging peloton on Holme Moss with 60km to go, when the day’s seven-man escape was swept up.
The German will chase a sixth Tour stage win in two editions in today’s 155km third stage from Cambridge to The Mall in London, but yesterday belonged to Nibali.
“This is wonderful victory,” Nibali added.
“This is a huge satisfaction. It was a very nervous race with a lot of spectators. I found the right time to escape. They watched each other behind, but I was scared to get caught because of the head wind.
“This victory’s very important for me, for Italy and for the team.”
Contador made his move on the climb to gauge his condition.
“Today was a day to test my strength rather than to really make an all-out attack; there wasn’t the terrain for that,” the two-time winner said.
“I wanted to be in a good position, too, because it was a risky day, there were thousands and thousands of people.
“I’m just very thankful to have got through, it was an extremely nervous stage with so many spectators.”