MAASTRICHT, The Netherlands (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is packing his bags for Belgium, fresh off winning the final stage and overall of the Giro del Trentino on Friday. Astana’s captain for next month’s Giro d’Italia is headed for Liège–Bastogne–Liège, a race he nearly won last year with a solo attack, and which kicks off in just 36 hours.
“Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a huge goal of mine,” Nibali said on Friday. “This Trentino win gives me a lot of morale heading towards it.”
Nibali nabbed the final stage up the summit finish to Sega di Ala, Italy, out-dueling compatriot Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) and overtaking Frenchman Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale) in the overall standings.
He was happy to win, but Nibali’s mind was more on Sunday’s 99th edition of “La Doyenne.”
“I didn’t think about win the stage and taking the overall today,” he said. “To be honest, my mind was on Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I just didn’t want to spend too much energy today. However, [sports director] Alexandr Shefer told me to go for it, given the situation.”
Nibali shot free as 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky) was rejoining the leaders following a late mechanical. Only Santambrogio was able to follow the Sicilian’s attack from about six kilometers out, but Nibali dealt with him. The 3km solo dig was a big effort ahead of Sunday’s race, which runs 261km through the Belgian Ardennes.
Last year, Nibali attacked solo on the Roche aux Faucons climb nearly 20 kilometers out. The move looked promising, but Astana’s Maxim Iglinskiy caught him on the final ramp into Ans and rode to the win.
Over the winter, Nibali left Liquigas for Astana, joining Iglinskiy and 2012 Amstel Gold Race winner Enrico Gasparotto. The three riders made up the Liège podium one year ago, with Gasparotto third.
Liege and bust?
Observers are questioning Nibali’s push to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, given the team’s goal to win the Giro, which starts on May 4 in Naples.
Trentino local and cycling great Francesco Moser advised against racing Liège following an effort like Friday’s.
“After a force like that,” said Moser, “if it was me I wouldn’t go to Liège.”
Iglinskiy, on the other hand, is focused solely on the Ardennes classics. Instead of the four-day Giro del Trentino, he raced the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne this week.
Wiggins originally planned to do the Trentino/Liège double, but changed his mind. Instead, he will stay in Italy, where he will preview the Giro’s first big summit finish, on stage 10, to Altopiano del Montasio and the 55.5km stage 8 time trial in Saltara.
“To do it two days after Trentino would be too stressful,” Wiggins told La Gazzetta dello Sport earlier this week. “I prefer to study the Giro in detail.”
For his part, Nibali said on Friday that he was unsure how the day’s effort would affect him come Sunday.
“I spent a lot of energy with that effort,” Nibali said. “Maybe it’ll hurt, but maybe it’ll also help for Liège.”
Nibali departed immediately for Liège and will take a 9:30 p.m. flight from Bergamo, but he isn’t alone. Joining him in the Trentino/Liège double will be compatriot Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida).
One could forgive Astana for taking pressure off Nibali’s shoulders in Wallonie, given his ride into the purple jersey on Friday, but general manager Alexander Vinokourov is likely to be less open in that regard. “Vino” is, after all, the only rider to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège after bagging Trentino, in 2010.