Vincenzo Nibali finished sixth in the time trial...

Nibali ‘good, if not better than previous years’

Vincenzo Nibali's star may no longer burn as bright, but some say he's as good, if not better than when he won his second Giro last year.

BERGAMO, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali‘s star may not burn as bright as past years, but those close to him say that he is good, if not better than last year when he won his second Giro d’Italia title.

Nibali leads new team Bahrain-Merida, the team that he helped start over the winter. So far, he has failed to give the team much to celebrate, losing time in the two summit finishes and time trial.

The Sicilian sits fourth overall at 3:40 minutes behind Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) after 15 stages and within the same minute as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), in second and third.

“Yes,” Bahrain-Merida sports director and coach Paolo Slongo told VeloNews when asked if Nibali was as strong as in 2016.

“The data and the watts look good. He’s the same, it’s just that Tom Dumoulin is going truly strong. If he has a bad day then we are right there for the win.”

“[Nibali’s] the same, it’s just Tom Dumoulin is going truly strong. If he has a bad day then we are right there for the win.”
– Paolo Slongo

Slongo worked with Nibali over the years to help him win the Tour de France in 2014 and last year, his second Giro d’Italia title. Last year, all seemed lost until Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) crashed in the final Friday and Nibali returned from a 4:43-minute deficient.

Bahrain-Merida, sponsored by the small island-state in the Persian Gulf, hopes for a similar rise in form and says that there is no guarantee that Dumoulin can hold his lead. Dumoulin led the 2015 Vuelta a España, but collapsed under the weight of Fabio Aru and his Astana teammates on the final mountain day. Slongo helped guide that team.

Alarm bells ring, however, as the Giro d’Italia enters another rest day with only six days to race. Nibali never looked brilliant in this Giro d’Italia and after losing another 53 seconds to Dumoulin at the Oropa Sanctuary on Saturday, out of character he refused to speak to press and rode straight to the team bus.

“He paid in its final. His data looks good, though,” Slongo said.

“Tom Dumoulin took advantage of the road yesterday when it levelled out and used all of us force. A rider like Vincenzo pays at that point. So on one side we are content because he’s in a good place with the big climbs ahead or he can make a difference. And the other positive aspect is that we are right in play for the podium.

“And of course, if Dumoulin has a bad day, we can play for the win, but if Tom Dumoulin continues like this, it becomes difficult for everyone. But let’s wait and see until we get to the mountainous terrain for the pure climbers.”

The race enters the high mountains Tuesday when it climbs the Stelvio pass twice and descends to finish in Bormio. It continues in the same vein until the final time trial stage in Milan.

Further away from the red and blue Bahrain-Merida bus, Astana’s turquoise bus rumbled and waited for Tanel Kangert. The Estonian sat seventh overall, but a crash Sunday near Bergamo forced him to abandon.

“I think that he is stronger than another years but he had an off day, perhaps a case of nerves, yesterday,” said Astana team manager Giuseppe Martinelli. “It was more mental then physical, I think. Those losses yesterday were too much given a rider of his caliber.

“Anyway, I think he looks stronger compared to last year. You will see him, just wait until we get to the true hard climbs.”