It took Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) a long time to get his first win of 2014, but it couldn’t have come at a better time.
With pressure mounting ahead of next month’s Tour de France, Nibali won the Italian national road race championship Saturday, just in time to quiet critics.
“I really wanted to win this for many reasons,” Nibali told Tutto Bici. “I like the idea of wearing the national jersey in the Tour. … This victory is like a liberation. It will be easier for the tifosi to see me in the peloton. I will not disappoint … I always give the maximum, head and legs, heart and soul.”
It’s Nibali’s first national title, and his first victory since claiming the Giro d’Italia in May 2013.
Thanks to solid work from Astana teammate Michele Scarponi, who forced the selection, Nibali was able to ride clear. Hanging on stubbornly was Davide Formolo (Cannondale), but the experienced Nibali wasn’t about to lose.
The big ride will help quiet doubts about Nibali’s form. Winless after some health issues, a crash in January, and the birth of his first child early in the season, Nibali seemed to lack his trademark punch. Despite a few flashes of aggression, he was otherwise unimpressive in the Tour de Romandie (fifth overall) and the Critérium du Dauphiné (seventh).
All season long, Nibali has insisted his goal was to peak in July, and that he was not worried about posting results in the first half of the year.
“I could never reach my top form early in the season, because of the birth of my daughter, and a crash,” Nibali said at a press conference before the national championships. “I have finally found the form I have wanted, and I am calm and confident for the Tour.”
Nibali insists he is still aspiring for outright victory at the Tour, though most observers see him a touch behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and defending champion Chris Froome (Sky).
Nibali also downplayed reports of crisis within Astana, and said that he is more confident than ever for the Tour.
“I know how to work and prepare properly,” Nibali said. “I have worked hard these past few weeks. My rivals were better than me at the Dauphiné, but I am still aspiring for the top step of the podium.”