PARIS (AFP) — Vincenzo Nibali said he would never have had a chance to win the Tour de France had it not been for recent improvements in anti-doping efforts.
The 29-year-old Italian is widely regarded as a clean rider, and his impending victory at the 2014 Tour is seen as proof that cyclists can win without cheating.
The reaction to his success is a far cry from that which greeted Lance Armstrong’s seven consecutive wins during the darkest days of blood doping and use of the banned substance Erythropoietin (EPO).
When Armstrong won his first Tour — he has since been stripped of all seven — there was no test for EPO. Throughout his reign, testers were struggling to keep up with the cheats.
But now with random out-of-competition tests and the biological passport, cycling has come a long way.
“Steps have been taken and great progress has been made, and with it so my results have arrived,” said Nibali.
“I have to thank them (doping controllers) because without these iron controls maybe I wouldn’t be here today.”
Barring a disaster on Sunday’s final stage procession that culminates on the Champs-Élysées, Nibali will join a select group of six riders to have won all three grand tours — after taking the Vuelta a España in 2010 and Giro d’Italia in 2013.
He admitted that while each grand tour had its merits, there was something special about winning the Tour.
“For me the Vuelta was the most important because it showed me that I could aim to win big tours like the Giro and the Tour in the following years,” he said.
“As an Italian it’s obvious that for me the Giro is very important but it’s also special for the Italian fans. But what makes the Tour so much bigger is the international attention it demands. It’s different, it’s bigger, it’s more beautiful.
“The level of competition is also higher than the others, although I had great rivals in both the Giro and the Vuelta.”
Nibali will become the 10th Italian to win the Tour but he said he still has some way to go to match the achievements of the likes of Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, and Felice Gimondi.
And he said he still has many ambitions left in the sport.
“I’ve taken my place in the history of the Tour and that’s very important, but those others also made their names in other great races, such as the classics,” he said.
“I never thought about making history, I just concentrated on trying to win the Tour, like I won the Giro and the Vuelta, because I’m a stage racer.
“Of course there are other races that I want to to win, like the Tour of Lombardy in which I’ve come close many times but not had the luck. Or the World Championships, which I tried to win last year, or Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“I’ve always liked these races and I’d like to try to win them, even though I’m more suited to stage races.”
Nibali has won four stages in this Tour and has never had a bad day or lost time to any of his rivals on any stage.
But he said Sunday would probably top all the joy he’s had over the last three weeks.
“I’m used to the emotions, it’s not my first Tour nor my first win in a grand tour. But there have been a lot of emotions and victories, such as the one in Sheffield [on the second stage], although I think the best one will be on Sunday.”
After that, he still has one more aim for the season, to win the world championships in Spain in September.
“That’s a good dream. I tried last year in Florence because I was in good form but things didn’t quite go as I’d hoped.
“But I will try to do it, and who knows, although after the Tour it’s difficult to arrive at the end of the season in good form.”