“Day after day it’s getting better. The post-trauma issues are improving, it’s not very fast, but there’s progress and that’s already important,” Nibali told VeloNews. “There’s enough time to get to the worlds in good condition. That’s the big objective for me and also thinking of the national team.”
What appeared to be a fan’s camera strap hooked Nibali’s handlebars on Tour stage 12. He fell to the ground hard but managed to climb back on his bike and finish only 13 seconds behind the leaders including stage winner Geraint Thomas (Sky) on Alpe d’Huez. That night, examinations revealed a vertebral fracture, and Nibali had to pull the plug on his big season goal, which was winning a second Tour after his first one in 2014.
With surgery and recovery, he had around 20 days off the bike. When he returned to riding, he started on home terrain in Sicily. He only had 15 days of serious training, mostly back on Swiss and Italian roads near his home base in Lugano before the Vuelta.
All was not lost, he already won the big Italian classic Milano-Sanremo from a solo attack. The main goal changed, though. Instead of the Tour, he shifted focus to the world championships in Innsbruck, Austria.
“The Vuelta helps me with the condition I lost. It’s normal that after having such great condition that there’s this big fall. I only came here with 15 days of training, so it’s hard to be here in top form,” Nibali added.
“Clearly, in my heart, I’d like to do something more, but I can’t do it. The incident took away a lot from me, but slowly I’m getting back up to pace. I need patience, faith, and consistency. I hope that everything goes well as it is going now.”
The stages that suit Nibali sit off on the horizon. The Vuelta a España travels north near the border of Portugal and begins to hit the high mountains in the coming days.
“If my condition helps me and I’m there in the last week, maybe I can try something, but there are riders here in great condition, who prepared just for it for months and months, or the riders who came here from the Tour. It’s hard. Already being here at this point says that the problem is going away day after day, it’s going in the right way, but like I said, you need patience.”
Davide Cassani, Team Italy’s head sport director, follows the Vuelta a España with the journalists. Every day, he sits in the press room to watch on television before going to the finish to talk with prospective team riders. He is watching Nibali closely because if he is in form, he could lead Italy on the climbing circuit in Innsbruck.
“First of all, the big thing is to have a good race with the national team, for sure, we want to have a big result,” Nibali said. “I don’t know at this point if I can be captain. I don’t have the condition to say so now. I’m still behind, but there are still 27 days where I can work a lot and I only really need one day to get into form at this point in the season.”