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Nibali’s Oman performance bodes well for Giro

GREEN MOUNTAIN, Oman (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali made it clear that he suffered in the early season the last two years and that he wanted to change. He showed that Friday, when he climbed away from his rivals on Green Mountain and took the lead in the Tour of Oman.

Instead of aiming for the Tour de France, which he won in 2014, Astana’s Italian star is building for a second Giro d’Italia title in May.

“It’s clear that in the last two years, I began with the Tour in mind. I began my season much slower, but there was always suffering,” Nibali said while sitting on the Green Mountain pass. “Inside, I always had this desire to do more. It was not easy, always some suffering. Instead, to start well, to start the season like this, with more of a normal weight, it’s easier to already win early.”

Nibali’s Astana gang took control on the 7.5-kilometer climb through Oman’s arid and mountainous lands south of Muscat. Nibali said he needed “strong nerves” to wait for the final, when he and Frenchman Romain Bardet of Ag2r La Mondiale went clear and dislodged previous leader Edvald Boasson Hagen of Dimension Data. Nibali won the stage 9 seconds ahead of Bardet and now leads the overall by 15 seconds.

The only mistake Nibali said he made was not using something easier than the 39×29 gear ratio he used to win at 1,435 meters above sea level. “On this gradient, 14 percent, it was too much,” he said.

Nibali sat on the ground in the warm Middle Eastern sun after helpers pushed him the final meters to his team car. He won on the same climb in 2012, but that was different. That ascent was 1.8km shorter, and he lacked the experience he has now.

This season, instead of the Tour, Nibali is targeting the Giro d’Italia in May. In the last two years, he raced the early season without success (aside from winning the national title). That worried team Astana and raised questions in Italy. Nibali pulled off the 2014 Tour win, but in 2015, he took longer to reach speed and returned home with one stage win and a fourth-place overall finish.

The Italians say “basta” when they have had enough of something, a word that Nibali must have used often in team meetings. Astana agreed to send him to the Giro this year and rising grand tour star Fabio Aru to the Tour. Given the change in plans, Nibali must reach his peak fitness two months earlier.

“In my head, knowing that I was aiming for the Tour de France, starting a little calmer, maybe I was less concentrated doing so — which is a mistake. Instead, with the idea of starting well from the start of the season, it’s much better. Also, your mind’s much more at ease,” Nibali added.

“[With an early win now] it’s a lot simpler, you know that you are already well prepared, that you made a good start. It’s easier to manage your season early on, not always being behind.”

Nibali also began his altitude training early. Partly for the season ahead and partly due to the weather where he lives in Lugano, Switzerland, he spent 11 days on Spain’s Tenerife island off Africa’s west coast. He had his group with him — Valerio Agnoli, Eros Capecchi, Jakob Fuglsang, Tanel Kangert, and Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev — and made a quick trip to Italy three days before heading to Oman.