Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) usually enters a season with more than one objective on his mind. With all three grand tour titles on his palmares and a pair of monument wins to boot, he’s a rider capable of nabbing wins all over the calendar.
As he told VeloNews last week at the Tour of Oman — rattling off one goal after another — his 2018 to-do list is another long one.
“The Tour de France is the main goal, but beyond that I’m looking at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. And also the Tour of Flanders, I’m trying that for the first time. And then the worlds in Innsbruck,” Nibali said.
Nibali finished on the podium at both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España in 2017, and then powered to his second career Il Lombardia win in October.
The fact that he is prepping for a grand tour bid and a pair of hilly one-days this season shouldn’t come as a surprise. But De Ronde? The cobbled classic doesn’t exactly have a parcours that screams Vincenzo Nibali.
Then again, Nibali’s 2014 Tour victory saw him deliver an expert ride on the cobblestones. More generally, expert bike handling skills have always been a highlight of his skillset. When he had the time this offseason — the Italian did buy a house over the winter break — he logged some training miles on the mountain bike. And while he’s no Tom Dumoulin, he does have plenty of raw power for an elite climber.
Whether any of that can translate into success at the Tour of Flanders is anyone’s guess. Either way, Nibali doesn’t see any harm in giving the legendary classic a go.
“I just want to go and see how it is. Flanders is, of course, one of the most important races in the world and I’m fascinated to try it,” he said. “Of course, it’s just the first time, so we’ll have to see. I want to understand if maybe in the future it can be a goal.”
The Tour de France will feature cobbles again this season as well. Nibali says that works in his favor. A dearth of time trial mileage will help too.
The Italian has triumphed in both the Giro and the Vuelta two times each. He is determined to prove himself once more at the Tour, particularly considering his win there came in a year that saw Froome abandon early with a wrist injury.
Froome has won the last three yellow jerseys, but Nibali says he feels just as strong at age 34 as he did at 30 when he last triumphed in the Tour.
“Nothing much has changed between 2014 and now,” he said. “Every year I’ve had grand tour podiums. Last year two. One beaten by Dumoulin, the other by Froome. But if you look at my career, more or less every year there’s a grand tour victory or podium.
“The sensations change every year, but this year I feel good.”
Should those “sensations” continue into July, expect Nibali to ride an aggressive race. His penchant for attacks has earned him plenty of fans in recent years. Nibali won’t be changing his approach any time soon.
“I’m not a fast rider, so I have to anticipate the others. Attacking is my way to win races,” he said. “It’s also instinct. It doesn’t matter if it’s far from the finish. I have to attack. When I arrive in a sprint, it’s not certain I’ll win. But of course I study the route of a race. In Lombardy, for instance, I know what to do because I’ve done the race so many times.”
Whatever happens in July, Nibali has his eyes on Austria as well. His impressive list of career exploits still lacks a world road title. This year’s course will offer an excellent opportunity to remedy that.
He’ll likely use the Vuelta as an opportunity to build back up to form for one final push. A legitimate bid for rainbow bands will require Nibali to peak a second time late in the year. He doesn’t see that part of the task as much of a challenge. Then again, he isn’t overly stressed about any of his multiple objectives.
One of the most decorated riders of the decade, Nibali is not worrying about filling in the gaps in his palmares. In the end, he’s just enjoying the ride.
“Worlds I’m targeting because the route is fit for me,” he said. “Worlds, the Olympics, whatever the race, I’m still having fun, so why not?”