Giro d'Italia

Italy’s Giro hopes rest on Nibali, unproven so far this season

Vincenzo Nibali won the Giro d'Italia in 2013 and 2016. After a slow start to 2017, Italian fans are unsure if their star can claim another title.

ALGHERO, Italy (VN) — Italians call him the favorite, but with a new team and slow 2017 season start, Vincenzo Nibali has the pressure to prove he is still top dog in this month’s Giro d’Italia.

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The Sicilian, victor in 2013 and 2016, leads team Bahrain-Merida for the 100th Giro, starting Friday, May 5, and running through May 28. However, unlike Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and other stars, Nibali counts few early season wins.

“My program wasn’t easy last year after the Olympics and crash, I restarted in all the last races possible,” Nibali explained. “I had a calm winter, tried to recover well from my collarbone fracture. I wanted a calm early season, but it was not great. It’d be better to win. I think we worked well. I think we’ll see if that worked out after the three weeks of the Giro.”

Nibali won the Tour of Croatia against mostly unknown riders: Jaime Roson, Jan Hirt, and Felix Grosschartner. The race, which finished on April 23, was his first win of the season.

Quintana, by comparison, won the Volta a Valenciana and Tirreno-Adriatico. After returning from Colombia last week, he won a stage and placed second in the Vuelta Asturias.

Nibali’s goal of making the podium in Milan after three weeks raised some eyebrows among the Italian media at Wednesday’s press conference.

“You’d be content with third overall? It’s hard to evaluate it all, it’s not easy to get on that highest step,” Nibali said.

“If I’m at my best and the team is at its best, then there’s nothing to be unhappy with. My goal is to race very cautiously, evaluating it day after day, all the variables. If I don’t get on that top step, then I’ll have the honor of knowing that the team and I worked the best we could.”

“For sure, Italians are looking to him, he’s the one, the only one, who can deliver it,” his trainer, Paolo Slongo said.

Fabio Aru canceled his Giro plans after a crash in training that injured his knee. Nibali is Italy’s only real hope of winning the Giro, which this year celebrates 100 editions.

“We are used to it, but we are going to concentrate on the race and not look at what’s going on outside and focus on the podium in Milan.

“He doesn’t need to show anything to anyone, he’s a champion and his palmarès speak [for] themselves. he just needs to give 100 percent. If someone is stronger, then they merit it.”

Critics wrote off Nibali last year, but he rebounded in the third week to overhaul Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), who crashed in the pink jersey, and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott). The congratulations poured in for Nibali’s second title, adding to the 2014 Tour de France and 2010 Vuelta a España victories, but other critics noted how the 2016 Giro field lack major stars.