AL MUSSANAH, Oman (AFP) — Ten days after his season-opening race in Dubai, Italy’s Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) returns to the peloton on Tuesday in the Tour of Oman.
The 30-year-old Sicilian, who finished 12th in Oman last year, seventh in 2013, and as runner-up in 2012, is looking forward to a race more suited to his climbing skills, unlike the Tour of Dubai, which was predominantly a sprinter’s race.
“In Dubai, it was a course only for the fast riders. But here the course is harder because there are two summit finishes and one at the Green Mountains which is a valley stage,” Nibali said.
“I can go for a stage win, and after that we’ll see. In Europe it is very cold at the moment while here we have some very warm temperatures so it’s an important opportunity,” he said. “It is not necessarily a huge objective but just a step in our preparation for upcoming races such as the Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo which are more important for the team.”
The Italian champion says he has prepared well in the off-season to defend his Tour de France title, a race where he also finished third in 2012.
“I feel really good. I’ve got good legs, but it’s only the second race. This year, I’ve followed a really good training program during the winter and I feel completely serene, just taking it step by step,” Nibali said.
Racing in Oman against several other grand tour talents, including Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), will provide Nibali with an opportunity to prepare for his bigger targets later in the season.
“The Tour de France is a major objective for me and the team and of course victory is the best result we can expect. The rivals will still be Alberto [Contador], [Nairo] Quintana, Joaquim Rodríguez and surely a surprise rider, the young Frenchman Romain Bardet, perhaps,” he said.
“I’ll also be racing the classics such as the Amstel Gold Race, the La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège which is the one I like the most and want to win,” Nibali said. “I’m not one of the fastest riders, which is a problem for one-day races but with a bit of luck … I’ll keep believing.”