MILAN (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali’s year of renewal began on the back roads in Argentina at the Tour of San Luis last week and is set to continue on the small Spanish island of Tenerife next month. After an up and down 2015, it could be the launch pad for another grand tour season. Team Astana says it is “satisfied” heading toward the first test, the Tour of Oman.
After winning all three grand tours, most recently the 2014 Tour de France, the Sicilian is aiming at the Giro d’Italia this May.
Nibali closed the seven-day San Luis race 14th overall behind Quintana – not his grand tour rival Nairo Quintana, but the Colombian’s younger brother Dayer. On the main mountain stage above Merlo, Nibali helped his Colombian teammate Miguel Angel Lopez win and place eighth overall. The Quintana brothers finished 50 seconds earlier on that stage.
“I saw the signs that I was looking for,” Nibali told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. “We can look ahead optimistically.”
Nibali did not win the South American race as he did in 2010, but he said the competition level has increased since his victory. However, he saw positive signs as he heads toward the Giro.
On the 17.4-kilometer climb above Merlo last Saturday, he rode “all out” for Lopez. Nibali said, “I was not even tired at the finish.”
“Considering we are at the start of the season, we saw some big performances,” Nibali’s trainer Paolo Slongo said. “The final climb Saturday lasted about 42 minutes and the winner had an average of 5.3 watts per kilogram. From what I estimated, Quintana’s attacks were above six watts. With respect to the last two seasons, Vincenzo is skinnier and ended  on the up. We can be satisfied.
“In 2014 and 2015, we thought only about the Tour, but he didn’t like the fact that he could not find his form in the first months, and therefore remain without victories.”
Nibali won the Tour in 2014, but he was inconsistent in 2015. At the Tour, he looked off and only saved himself by winning the stage to La Toussuire and moving to fourth overall behind winner Chris Froome of Sky. Despite being kicked out of the Vuelta a España for holding onto a team car, he flew through the end of 2015 and capped it off with a solo victory show at Il Lombardia.
The Giro could perhaps be Nibali’s swan song with Astana, as he’s rumored to be exploring other teams. His agent confirmed he is considering a renewal offer from Astana but he’s also looking around at other teams, with Trek-Segafredo and Lampre-Merida at the top of the list.
Getting to the Giro requires a few important steps, one being the Tour de San Luis. The next is a training camp at altitude on the Spanish island of Tenerife, from February 1-12. The next sign Nibali will look for is a victory, which he would like to take on Green Mountain in the Tour of Oman later in February.
Nibali won the Green Mountain stage in 2012 before he went on to finish third at the Middle Eastern race behind Bradley Wiggins and Froome.
This year, the Tour of Oman for the first time climbs an extra 1.8km up Green Mountain, for a total of 7.5km. More than ever, it should decide the overall and provide those important indicators for stars including Nibali, Richie Porte of BMC Racing, and Tom Dumoulin of Giant-Alpecin.