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Vegni said Italian cycling and the Giro won’t be the same without Nibali.
“Of course, the Giro will miss him. He will leave a big hole,” Vegni said at the start Thursday. “He is a rider who can move the passion of the fans, and with the way he races in an attacking style, that will be impossible to replace.”
Nibali, 37, confirmed Wednesday during his emotional homecoming to Messina after stage 5 that this is his final Giro and that he will retire at the end of 2022.
- Vincenzo Nibali and an end of an era in Italian cycling
- Giro d’Italia: Vincenzo Nibali announces retirement at end of 2022
Giro owners, RCS Sport, rode the wave of Nibali’s popularity for more than a decade, when the Sicilian emerged in the late 2000s as the heir apparent to the likes of Marco Pantani and Gilberto Simoni.
With a lack of charismatic stars coming up inside the Italian ranks, Vegni said Nibali was a once-in-a-generation rider.
“Vincenzo is a rider who is able to excite the fans, not only with the way he races but the way he carries himself,” Vegni said. “There is a problem now in Italian cycling because right now the Giro will not have a big favorite for the fans to get behind.”
Just as Nibali retires, emerging superstar and 2021 Paris-Roubaix winner Sonny Colbrelli faces an uncertain future following a health emergency this spring.
Behind those two, there is a mix of aging veterans and young pros, but few of them are household names beyond the reach of the most avid cycling fan.
Riders like Giulio Ciccone, Filippo Ganna, and Alessandro Cove could emerge, but none of them seem to have the depth and skillset to challenge for the grand tours.
Vegni admitted it will be a problem for the Giro if the race doesn’t have a big Italian star to cater to hometown fans.
“Absolutely yes, absolutely yes,” Vegni said. “Just like the French would like to see a French rider win the Tour de France, it’s normal that the Giro would like to see a big Italian figure. For the Giro organizers, of course, it would be better for us if we could have a big Italian star coming soon.”
Nibali won two editions of the Giro, one Vuelta a España, and yellow jersey at the Tour de France, along with such monuments as Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia during the arc of his career.
“How much did he leave his mark on Italians, I would say a lot. But he was more than just an Italian rider, he was an international rider, capable of winning all the important races across the calendar,” Vegni said.
“Whenever he was at the start of a race, he was one of those rare riders able to make an immediate impact on the race.
“He was also a strong character inside the sport of Italian cycling. When he had an opinion about things, he would let you know to your face. And that’s something to respect.”