NAPLES, Italy (VN) — At the team presentation on the harbor in Naples, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) waved to his people, the southerners, today on the eve of the Giro d’Italia. The race kicks off in Naples tomorrow, travels down south — to Nibali’s homeland — and heads north over three weeks. If all goes well, he will be waving again on the final podium in Brescia as the 2013 champion.
“That’s my area,” Astana manager Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews. “I hope when we get to my home, in Brescia, that I have Nibali in pink and give a reason for the locals to cheer. To see him on the podium as winner would be a dream.”
Nibali left the safe surroundings of his hotel today only for a training ride and the team presentation. The weather’s perfect, near 86 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny, and only encourages more Napoletani to come out and cheer their southerner on.
Since joining Astana over the winter after several years at Liquigas, the Sicilian targeted the Giro d’Italia as his top goal for 2013. Unlike Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who said that he wants to go for the Giro/Tour double, Nibali only has eyes for his home race.
Speaking to a group of journalists, he explained that, despite the mounting pressure as race favorite, he is relaxed.
“I’m relaxed, it’s beautiful here in Naples these days, and I hope it remains that way for the rest of the Giro, above all when we race through the mountains of the north,” Nibali said. “I’ve been happy with the season up to this point, and I hope it keeps going that way. We are only at the beginning of the Giro and I have the attention on me.”
Tour de France champion Wiggins agreed.
“You’d say that on paper and form that he’s the favorite and the one we’ve all got to beat, but you can never underestimate anyone in cycling,” Wiggins said to the press yesterday. “Everyone’s a threat, even the guys who [did not attend the favorites’ press conference].”
Focusing only on the Giro in 2013
Nibali, 28, first proved his grand tour talents in 2010. That year, he helped former teammate Ivan Basso win the Giro d’Italia. He placed third and won a stage along the way. Later that season, he won the Vuelta a España for himself.
Wiggins and Sky teammate Chris Froome dominated the Tour de France last year, but Nibali was right behind them. He left Liquigas on a good note, giving the team its best ever Tour result.
Martinelli convinced Nibali to race the Giro this year, with eyes on the 101st edition of the Tour, in 2014. Martinelli told VeloNews last year, “I hope that in 2014 that everyone else is focused elsewhere and leaves the 2014 Tour to us.”
Nibali appears on track for pink. He overthrew Froome to win Tirreno-Adriatico in March and at the Giro del Trentino last month, with Wiggins suffering a mechanical, he rode clear to another overall win.
This Giro seems nearly perfect for “The Shark.” Nibali above all needs to limit his losses in the 55-kilometer time trial to Saltara next week and then open the gas in the Alpine mountains in the third week.
“The last stages are very important, but even in the first stages. I remember the L’Aquila stage in 2010 with the mega escape; that taught me a lot. I know I need to pay attention,” Nibali added. “I am focused on not having any big losses in the time trial. I know I can lose time there, but I hope that it’s the least possible. I’ll have to defend myself well.”
If he succeeds, those fans that cheered him along Naples harbor today will be screaming and chanting his name in the bars and pizzerias in three weeks’ time. They will celebrate the first terrone to win the Giro since Danilo Di Luca in 2007.