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Froome, Nibali revive rivalry in Alps

Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali will have a rare encounter at Tour of the Alps, which will tease the Tour de France matchup anticipated this summer.

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It’s the first time they’ve locked horns since last year’s Tour de France. And this week’s Tour of the Alps will also be the last chance to see them race together before this year’s Tour.

Though there are other candidates for victory in the five-day stage race across northern Italy and Austria, all eyes will be on the matchup between Chris Froome (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).

“Right now, it’s crucial for me to put kilometers in the legs,” Froome said Sunday. “The stages are short, but really tough, and will give me key feedback on what I still need to do to get to the top. But for sure both Vincenzo and I are starting to win it.”

The race kicks off Monday and continues through Friday. Littered with climbs across the Dolomites, the tour is more than a dress rehearsal for the Giro this year. The Tour of the Alps scores a coup, and sees this generation’s best stage racers square off for the first time this season.

The 43rd edition of the race — formerly called Giro del Trentino — will again serve as a key warm-up race ahead of the Giro d’Italia. As a result, the Giro-bound Nibali should be in sharper form than Froome, who is not defending his Giro crown to try to win a record-tying fifth yellow jersey in July.

“This race has always been important to me,” said Nibali, who’s won on two occasions. “The role is always the same, a key dress rehearsal for the Giro.”

Froome, however, says he’s motivated to perform well in what will be his final race in a Team Sky jersey. With new sponsor Ineos taking over at the end of this month, Froome will race next at the Tour de Yorkshire in May when new team colors will be officially unveiled.

“It will be my final race in a Team Sky jersey, and it’s odd even just saying that,” Froome said. “Sky has been an amazing sponsor for 10 years, and it would be great to say goodbye on a high note.”

Froome and Nibali have dominated grand tours over the past decade. Both have swept cycling’s “grand slam” by winning all three grand tours, with 10 grand tour titles between them. Froome last beat back Nibali to win the 2017 Vuelta a España, while Nibali has never beaten Froome en route to winning a grand tour that Froome completed.

Nibali seemed to downplay expectations and said his focus is on preparing for a run at what would be a third Giro crown next month.

“I will be supported by a young team,” Nibali said. “The Giro squad is not finalized yet, so there is still a chance for some riders to earn a spot.”

Other candidates include Pello Bilbao (Astana), Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r La Mondiale), but a showdown between Froome and Nibali, even at a less-than-peak form, should be exciting enough.