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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) is not only concerned about losing eight minutes to his rivals in the Vuelta a España, but he’s also worried about back problems continuing and upsetting his career.
The Italian fell in July, when the Tour de France climbed Alpe d’Huez, due to a fan on the side of the road. He abandoned the race, had surgery on a vertebra, and rushed back to race the Vuelta, which began Saturday. On the first two climbs, he lost chunks of time. But that’s not his main problem.
“The problem’s something else here,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I’m not upset or disappointed, I’m worried. My back still give me problems and I can’t do much more as long as the situation is like this. I’m also worried for the future. The question is, will it return to the way it was before the incident? I don’t have answers that can satisfy me.”
With around 4 kilometers remaining in the Tour’s 12th stage to the Alpe d’Huez ski resort, a camera strap or something similar from a fan hooked around Nibali’s handlebars and sent him down to the ground hard. The pain and fracture would not allow him to continue the race.
The Bahrain-Merida team is still seeking damages from Tour organizer ASO for not protecting its riders enough. Nibali lost a year of preparation and investment. Other incidents included four-time race winner Chris Froome (Sky) getting punched.
Nibali had about 20 days off the bike and only 20 to train for the Vuelta a España. He had dreams of winning it again like he did in 2010. That victory was followed with wins in the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. Ultimately, he wanted to find his form and race rhythm ahead of the world championships in Innsbruck on September 30, two weeks after the Vuelta ends. This year, the worlds circuit suits climbers and Nibali wants a rainbow jersey.
Everything could be lost if the pain in his back does not subside.
“What can I say? What can I do here?” Nibali continued.
“I’m suffering like a dog, I’m pushing hard, though. If I was someone else, with a different character, I would’ve already gone home, given up everything. Instead, I’m here, resisting. I’ll go ahead.
“The problem is my back. When I push for long periods it hurts. As if I have tendonitis in my back.”
American Ben King (Dimension Data) won stage 4 to Alfacar from an early escape group. The favorites battled each other around three minutes behind King. Nibali could not take part, having lost ground earlier on the 12.4-kilometer climb.
Stage 2 on Sunday also saw him lose 4:04. He was 64th overall at 12:33 behind race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) entering Wednesday’s stage 5.
The race continues from Granada Wednesday with some easier stages. The most serious climbs come at the end of week two and in the third week.
“Positive notes? I am recovering well, my legs are not heavy,” he continued. “But I need to solve my back problem.”