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Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) Photo: Tim De...

Nibali goes straight from Flanders to Basque Country

Vincenzo Nibali finished 24th at his first Tour of Flanders on Sunday and begins Tour of the Basque Country on Monday.

OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) was in a hurry at the end of an impressive Tour of Flanders debut. He had a plane to catch.

The recently crowned Milano-Sanremo champion raced with panache Sunday, finishing 24th at 1:18 back in what was an unlikely and encouraging romp across Flanders.

As quick as it was over, Nibali was heading to the airport to fly to Spain to start what’s arguably the hardest one week stage race on the calendar at the Tour of the Basque Country.

It’s all in a day’s work for one of cycling’s most prolific riders.

“I gave it go,” Nibali told RAI at the line. “It was my first time here. I felt like was riding in a washing machine.”

Just like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who lit up a rainy romp in Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, Nibali’s presence at Flanders raised expectations.

His participation harkened back to the day when all of the peloton’s big stars would race nearly every date on the calendar. In today’s ever more specialized racing, the GC contenders like Nibali normally steer clear of the hazards and unpredictable dynamics of the one-day classics.

Nibali is one of those few riders who can straddle both. A winner of Sanremo and two editions of Giro di Lombardia, Nibali was keen to get a taste of racing in Flanders.

“I suffered on each climb like it was a sprint,” he said. “I saw that you need to be in good position on each climb, or else you pay.”

Nibali ended up playing a key role in the race. Not only was he surprising many by staying close to the action, his acceleration off the Kruisberg perhaps inadvertently set up Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step) for the win. The big Dutchman followed the Nibali surge, and then soloed home to win.

“I did what I did because I wanted to see what’s possible,” he said. “Terpstra had another set of legs and an impressive rhythm. I was six hours stressed and concentrated.”

Nibali vows to come back to Flanders. Up next is an even more and realistic goal: Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It’s a race that’s better suited for him than the cobbled climbs of Flanders. After that flight and País Vasco, of course.