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Nibali throws Giro gauntlet down to Froome

MILAN (AFP) — Vincenzo Nibali threw down the gauntlet to Tour de France champion Chris Froome on Tuesday, challenging the Briton to ride next year’s centenary Giro d’Italia.

Italian Nibali, who claimed his second Giro triumph ahead of Colombia’s Esteban Chaves earlier this year, is expected to duel with former Astana teammate Fabio Aru for victory next May in the 100th edition on the Giro, whose route was unveiled in Milan on Tuesday.

“[It’s] a difficult Giro, very complicated. You will have to take it day by day and try to save as much energy as possible early on,” said Nibali, 31.

Although Froome said he will not ride the Giro because it would affect his preparations for the Tour de France, the Kenya-born Briton recently hinted on Twitter that the route for next year’s Giro was tempting.

If Froome does change his mind, the Team Sky leader would be returning to the race for the first time since 2010 when he was disqualified for hanging on to a police motorbike on the Mortirolo climb, which will feature next year in what looks to be a thrilling final week in the mountains.

Nibali, who suffered the same fate as Froome when he was thrown off the Vuelta a España in 2015, will race on his native Sicily on stages four and five urged Froome to return to the Giro.

“I think for him, even if it’s just one time in his life, he should come and try the Giro d’Italia,” added Nibali, who won the Tour in 2014.

“He would realize how much affection there is here, how much love there is for cycling and how important the Giro is.

“If he came, we’d all be happy.”

Race director Mauro Vegni hopes the prospect of winning the centenary edition is enough to entice more high-caliber riders.

“I think we’re right when we say the Giro d’Italia is the ‘toughest race in the world, in the world’s most beautiful place.’ It summarizes the Giro d’Italia, especially for the 100th edition,” said Vegni.

“We have created a wholly Italian race that visits as much of the country as possible to celebrate the race, and also the history of Italy and especially the Giro d’Italia.”

Froome’s participation at the Giro would prove a huge boon for organizers, although the three-time Tour de France winner is instead expected to focus all his energy on winning a fourth yellow jersey.

It would leave Nibali as the top dog, with Aru just one of several challengers looking to succeed him in the pink jersey.

Nibali, who will race for Bahrain-Merida next year, said he was excited by the prospect of racing in his native Sicily.

“It’s a unique occasion, it’s the 100th edition, it comes to my island, my region and my city,” he said.

“It’s very interesting. I like it.”