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Nibali: Beating Sky is a (power) numbers game

  • By Gregor Brown
  • Published Dec. 13, 2013
Vincenzo Nibali has what the Italians call "grinta," and plenty of it. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

MILAN (VN) — To win the Tour de France, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) faces Sky and its computers. He said that its SRM power meters would help when the team wants to make an effort for its leader Chris Froome.

“SRM meters help to train and prepare for races but in the races, those numbers don’t mean anything,” Nibali told VeloNews. “They are useful when you ride like Sky does — when a team puts five riders on the front, going at their maximum, one following the other and following his SRM.”

SRM and other bike-mounted computers measure and record a rider’s power output over a ride. Team trainers can use the data later to understand a rider’s ability in training or in races, or a rider can read the computer’s instant readout on the handlebar-mounted screen.

According to Nibali, Sky rides to those numbers when it wants to make an effort to drop its rivals. Its domination helped Bradley Wiggins to the 2012 Tour win and Froome to this year’s title.

‘Your head is in another world’

“You know what happens in races? You’re going well, feeling well and you go maybe 10 or 20 watts over what you’d normally produce. You are not thinking about it and you just do more than what you think you’re capable of doing. You’re running off of adrenaline and concentration. Your head is in another world,” Nibali added.

“Your data and limits make for good references but they can change so much in a race. At times, I’ve gone way over this number [390 watts] or at times, I’ve done less.”

Astana general manager Giuseppe Martinelli said that an SRM’s readout does make a difference. He explained that it allows a team to ride at the limit and minimize attacks.

“If one knows he can hold 360 watts on the climb, a rival can only [attack] for one or two kilometers, take 50 seconds,” Martinelli said in May. “That’s all they can do.”

Talking tactics

VeloNews sat down with Nibali, dressed in Astana’s blue team track suit, last month. He is preparing for the 2014 season and a return to the Tour de France. The last time he raced in the July grand tour (in 2012), he placed third to Wiggins. Froome was second.

Nibali skipped the race this year but won the Giro d’Italia and was the runner-up behind Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) in the Vuelta a España. The Tour title is now on his mind.

After winning the 2010 Vuelta, team trainer Paolo Slongo told VeloNews that at 63 kilograms, Nibali could produce 390 watts. At the Vuelta this year, newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport said Nibali was climbing at 430 watts when Horner attacked him. In the Giro’s Jafferau stage this May, the newspaper reported that he averaged 340 watts over seven kilometers.

“I’m still the same weight, 63 or 64 kilograms,” Nibali said. “I don’t want to talk about my watts, but I’ve improved a lot.”

He argues that if someone has the fitness, tactics take more importance. He said you must have the capacity to read the race and not rely on your SRM or team director giving instructions over the radio.

Nibali stole the Tirreno-Adriatico blue leader’s jersey from Froome on a rainy day in Le Marche using tactics, strength, and descending skill. He saw that Froome was isolated, attacked, rode clear up a climb, and added to his advantage on the slick descent to the finish in Porto Sant’Elpidio.

“SRMs give you a lot of data for the future,” Nibali added. “In races, though, you don’t need those numbers. You must have the capacity to read the race.”

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown

Bikes kept Gregor Brown out of trouble growing up in Oklahoma — BMX, freestyle and then watching Greg LeMond's Tour de France wins on CBS television's weekend highlights shows. The drama of the 1998 Tour, however, truly drew him into the fold. With a growing curiosity in European races and lifestyle, he followed his heart and established camp on Lake Como's shores in 2004. Brown has been following the Giro, the Tour and every major race in Europe since 2006. He will tell you it is about the "race within the race" – punching out the news and running to finish – but he loves a proper dinner, un piatto tipico ed un vino della zona.

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