MILAN, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali, with the last bit of racing and training behind him, is ready to attack the Tour de France. The Italian of Liquigas-Cannondale believes he can become the first Italian winner in 14 years, since the late Marco Pantani in 1998.
“It’s going to be very difficult and I’m keeping my feet on the ground, one step at a time,” Nibali told VeloNews. “There are always many unexpected events.”
Nibali’s 2010 season was unexpected: he helped Ivan Basso to the win in the Giro d’Italia and then turned around and won the Vuelta a España for himself. With Basso’s career fading, the 27-year-old Sicilian is now Italy’s biggest hope to win the Tour.
This season, he told Liquigas’ team manager, Roberto Amadio that he wanted to skip the Giro to focus on winning the Tour.
“I didn’t change much [over the winter]. This year, I started a little with better condition. I prepared a bit more in the winter. After the classics, I recovered well and focused solely on the Tour,” Nibali said.
“I’d liked to have raced [the Giro], for sure, but I made other goals, including the Tour. It’s gone well. If I skip the Giro just once, it’s not such a big deal.”
Nibali first peaked for the spring. He won the mountaintop finish in Prati di Tivo and the overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, the second biggest stage race in Italy behind the Giro. At Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he had the fans on the edges of their seats with a 19.5km solo attack from the Roche aux Faucons climb. He lost to a late-charging Maxim Iglinsky (Astana), but highlighted his talents.
Astana and BMC Racing acknowledge those talents and are reportedly courting Nibali for next season, though neither have confirmed this. For his part, Nibali confirmed to VeloNews during the Critérium du Dauphiné that he’ll leave Liquigas after seven years at the end of this season. He is rumored to be joining Astana and he’d like to do so as Tour champion.
He is, however, not on par as a time trialist with riders like Cadel Evans (BMC) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky), and needs to gain time in the mountains. He said that he’s “going well” and enjoyed a break of 10 days after Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Amgen Tour of California and the Dauphiné were not promising, however. He said of California, “I suffered a bit with the jetlag and the change in weather, a little from allergies.”
In the Dauphiné, no one could stop Sky and its leader Brad Wiggins. Evans came close, but Nibali suffered. Over eight days, he lost 14 minutes. He’s been thinking about this in San Pellegrino, Italy. In this last week, he’s been stationed at 2030 meters in the Dolomites at Chalet Cima Uomo with his team and Liquigas trainer Paolo Slongo.
“I’m working hard to find the best condition,” he told Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport. “The Dauphiné is behind me: I had a bad day, but in the other stages I didn’t go so badly. Anyway the situation, as we’ve seen in the last years, can change at the Tour. Who’s to say that at the Tour Sky and Wiggins won’t go completely flat?
“You know me, if I’m going well, I’ll attack. Without looking too much into the results so far, I know that I can break the race apart.”
Liquigas has yet to announce the team, but Nibali told VeloNews he would rely on Basso, Sylvester Szmyd and several “fresh riders” who skipped the Giro: “We’ll be strong.”