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MESSINA, Italy (VN) — As the Giro d’Italia left Sicily and returned to the mainland on Wednesday, Giovanna Nibali returned to work. The mother of Antonio and Vincenzo Nibali, Giovanna went to see her boys Vincenzo and Antonio race in several of the opening stages of this year’s race. Bike moms are like that. Little matter the age or fitness of their kin, they love to watch their kids race.
But now that the peloton has made its way across the Tirreno Sea to Italy’s southern foot, Giovanna returned, as she does most days, to her small stationary and video shop in the heart of Messina. It was here that Vincenzo took his first pedal strokes. It was here that the most well-known Nibali became the “Shark of Messina.”
“I always hoped that I’d see Vincenzo in the Giro d’Italia,” Giovanna told VeloNews when we stopped by on Wednesday morning to chat. “I remember him when he was little. He was always riding his bike and it was clear that he was strong. It was clear from the beginning that he had potential and was motivated. So yeah, I was always hoping I see him racing the big races on our roads.”
During our visit Giovanna showed us the array of framed jerseys given to her by her son. There was his yellow jersey from the 2014 Tour de France, and pink jerseys from his Giro d’Italia wins.
As Giovanna likes to recall, when it came to Vincenzo and the bike, it was simply love at first sight. “He started riding very early. And it didn’t matter if it was a tricycle or one of his first kid’s bicycles, he just loved riding. I remember his friends would go to a sports camp. He went for maybe two days and just said, ‘No that’s not for me. I prefer my bike.’ For Vincenzo, it was always the bike. Even later, when he got into cars and motorcycles, they were far behind the bike. The bike always came first.”
The young Nibali was so attached to his bike, in fact, that it was the only thing that his father, Salvatore, could use as punishment. And one day, when Vincenzo was completely distracted from his studies, his father became so frustrated that he took a saw to his bike and simply cut it in half.
“Oh, did Vincenzo cry,” Giovanna said, vividly recalling the scene. “But his grades did improve.”
Giovanna admitted that school was never Vincenzo’s thing. And even more than cars and motos, it fell well behind cycling when it came to priorities.
Fortunately for Vincenzo, as well as for his parents, he quickly proved to be one badass bike racer.
“I understood early on that Vincenzo had real talent,” Giovanna said. “His dad rode regularly, and when he was 10 years old he started going out with his dad’s on club rides. Already he was dropping a lot of guys much older than him. This was well before he actually started racing, but he was always riding away from the others.”
Just a few years later, Nibali took out his first license and entered his first race. “He was 13 he started racing here around Messina. His first race was in Barcellona Posso di Gotto. He finished second but he had no experience. Soon he started winning. And then, when he was 15, he signed with a well-known junior club in Tuscany — Team Mastromarca — and moved there. And he won his first race there too! And really, he just kept winning.”
Did Giovanna know that her son would one day go on to win all three grand tours, not to mention monuments like Milano-Sanremo, and the Il Lombardia? No, of course not. But she knew back then that he was good.
This past week Giovanni went to see Vincenzo and Antonio, both of whom ride on the Trek–Segafredo team, on two of the first four stages in Sicily. First, she stopped to say hello at the opening time trial in Palermo. Then, on Tuesday, she attended the stage to Villafranca Tirrena.
She saw Vincenzo enough to know that the 35-year-old is just coming into peak condition. “I can tell you he his very relaxed, but also very motivated,” she observed. “Perhaps it is just a mother’s instinct, but I can tell that he is really focused.”
And her instincts have largely been confirmed in the opening stages. Sure [Vincenzo] faltered slightly in the opening time trial, losing over a minute to recent world TT champion Filippo Ganna, but he rode powerfully on the slopes of Mount Etna to move into fifth place, barely a minute off the current race leader, João Almeida of Portugal. And Nibali understands as well as anyone that a grand tour is not won in days, but rather weeks.
After all, he won his second Giro d’Italia in 2016 in the final, closing days.
“He really wants this Giro,” Giovanna said. “I think winning a third Giro d’Italia is more important to him than winning another Tour de France. From the beginning of the year, his big objectives were the Giro d’Italia and the world championships. The calendar may have changed a lot, but never his objectives. Okay — the worlds did not go as well as he had hoped, but he was only coming into peak form. It’s just too bad that the worlds did come after the Giro — who knows! But starting the race here in Sicily was really important for him, and winning the Giro this year has just been a huge focus.
Soon enough, it was time to put the jerseys back on the wall, and to get back to work. Giovanna bid us farewell as we returned to the hectic opening week of the Giro d’Italia.
“It’s not going to be easy,” she said about her son’s chances at winning this Giro. “But it would be beautiful.