SAN JUAN, Argentina (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) arrived five days early, trained on the Argentine roads, and attended the team presentation all for nothing. This morning, ahead of the Vuelta a San Juan, fever forced the Italian grand tour star to sit out and delay the start of his 2018 season.
Nibali, a winner of all three grand tours, arrived in Argentina as one of the pre-race favorites along with Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe). The seven-stage race should have kicked off his year, one with the Tour de France as the main goal.
“Only two hours ago, Vincenzo had gastroenteritis with nausea, vomiting, and fever,” Emilio Magni, Bahrain-Merida’s team doctor, said ahead of stage one.
“There’s no way he can start like that. His fever was rising at 38.5C [101.3F] – he was bad off. Maybe in a few hours he’s already better, but in this moment, it is impossible. He couldn’t stand up.”
The team’s other five cyclists put on their red and blue kits, left the hotel, and rode to the start in San Juan’s center without Nibali.
“We had a couple of other riders affected by it too in the last days, Antonio Nibali and Ivan Garcia Cortina,” trainer Paolo Slongo added. “Maybe they passed it beforehand and had time to be ready for the race. There are many teams who’ve had similar problems, Quick-Step, and others, but it’s too bad for Vincenzo that it came this morning when the race was starting.”
Magni added, “It’s hard to say how he got it.”
Nibali will remain in western Argentina near the Andes Mountains for a couple of days before flying home. His next race will be the Tour of Oman in mid-February.
After aiming for the Giro d’Italia and placing third in 2017, the team has him slated to race the Tour de France for a second title after the 2014 win.
“Season compromised? No, it doesn’t change everything, but clearly we invested in this race by being here five days in advance to adapt,” said Slongo.
“We took out two days to travel here too. It was important for us to race the Vuelta a San Juan. Our big goals don’t change, but I’m sorry about this situation. We can’t do anything about it. It’s out of our hands.”
Nibali will be one of the top favorites at the Tour de France this summer along with Chris Froome (Sky), Mikel Landa (Movistar), and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
“Let’s hope that this doesn’t change that!” Slongo said with a laugh. “The Tour, the way it is designed with pavé, the short stages and team time trial, it’s good for Team Bahrain and Nibali. “It’s a good route for us.
“Nibali’s more relaxed this year, that’s not to say that last year went badly, but it was a new team and many things to check out. We needed time to let it grow, I think that this year it’s settled in. That will be better when it comes to the Tour.”