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Vincenzo Nibali lost more than 4 minutes on the...

Nibali admits his Vuelta tank is on empty

The Bahrain-Merida rider started the Spanish grand tour after he was knocked out of the Tour de France because of a crash.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) feels “empty” and unable to stay with the top riders at the Vuelta a España due to a Tour de France crash and little preparation beforehand.

Nibali crashed in the Tour due to a fan, fractured a vertebra, but by “a miracle” he lined up for the start of the Vuelta on Saturday in Málaga. Twenty-four hours later, the lack of racing and preparation showed. Nibali fell behind the GC stars on the Caminito del Rey climb and lost 4:04.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won the stage and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) took the race lead. Nibali, who won the race overall in 2010 and is wearing race No. 1 for this edition, sits 82nd overall.

“No, I’m not sick. I don’t I feel finished. Simply, I’m empty,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“I realized it about 20 kilometers from the finish that it would be like that. But really, this is what I expected.”

The Sicilian began his career as a helper for Ivan Basso. When he won the 2010 Vuelta, he showed he was ready to lead himself. He went on to win the Giro d’Italia twice and the 2014 Tour de France.

He is 33 now, but is as lethal as ever. This year, he flew free and surprised everyone by winning Milano-Sanremo solo. He launched a similar attack in the Tour of Flanders, his first time at the race, and although he did not win, he paved the way for Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) to do so.

The idea was to aim for the Tour de France again. He skipped the Giro and prepared for the July race. Just as the race became serious, on the Alpe d’Huez climb, a fan’s camera strap or similar item hooked Nibali’s handlebars and flipped him and his bike to the ground hard. Nibali, unable to continue after the stage, went home. The season, everything, was in doubt.

“For us to be at the Vuelta with Vincenzo is already a win,” Bahrain-Merida manager Brent Copeland said. “Forty days ago it seemed impossible, that we’d need a miracle.”

The day was worse for Richie Porte (BMC Racing), who is sick and lost 13 minutes. Nibali only lost a third of that, but in modern cycling such time almost always ends your race. Anything can happen, however, as we saw with Chris Froome’s come-from-behind win in the Giro in May.

Nibali remains with his feet on the ground. He said, “You know that I didn’t make any lies about my preparation before the Vuelta started.”

Given “The Shark” and his abilities, something could be possible. He will need to survive the first week and above all, the stage 4 finish. The Alfacar finish is short, but seriously steep. It climbs 12.4km to reach Sierra de la Alfaguara. The middle section is the toughest, at 11 percent.

“I can’t win, let’s not beat around the bush,” Nibali said before the Vuelta began. “I have a kilo extra on me and I’m pushing fewer watts. It’s been 20 days of training that I’ve had for this race. I didn’t prepare for the Vuelta, I couldn’t.

“It’s like going to school without having studied for the test. It can go well if they ask you only those two things that you know.”

Nibali said he will lose weight naturally in the coming days and he should produce more watts. It may not happen soon enough, given the fact that riders like Valverde and Kwiatkowski are already sharp.

The hard work in Spain, though, will serve Nibali for the road race at the UCI worlds on September 30, two weeks after the Vuelta ends, in Innsbruck.