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Insiders: Nibali’s Sanremo win good for cycling

Retired pros and sport directors said Vincenzo Nibali's victory at Milano-Sanremo provided Italy — and cycling overall — with a boost.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) won Milano-Sanremo in an old-school style with his solo attack from the Poggio, say cycling insiders.

Italy, whose parliament remains stalled after the country’s recent elections, is turning to cycling and Nibali’s galvanizing victory. He gave the country a home win in the first cycling monument of the 2018 season.

The Sicilian, better known for his grand tour wins, blasted away on the final Poggio climb to arrive solo on the Via Roma 6.4 kilometers later.

“I like him because he interprets cycling as we used to interpret it in my time,” cycling great Eddy Merckx told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“He always starts to do well and does not hold back. The fact that Milano-Sanremo was conquered by a rider who has already won races like the Giro d’Italia or the Tour de France is great news for all cycling. That’s why everyone applauds a victory like this.”

The Via Roma in Sanremo’s center roared with applause when Nibali attacked and, 10 minutes later, when he won just ahead of the speeding bunch lead by Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott). Yes, an Italian won, not something seen since Filippo Pozzato’s 2006 victory, but this was a Milano-Sanremo storyline not seen in some time.

The heroic effort reminded followers of Costante Girardengo’s 200km opera, Fausto Coppi’s move from the Turchino, or Merckx’s solo attack in 1971 on the heels of Felice Gimondi.

“For a GC rider or a climber to win Sanremo, it’s so unusual and unexpected. I didn’t see his name mentioned anywhere as being a possible winner,” Bahrain-Merida general manager Brent Copeland told VeloNews.

“To win in that fashion makes it so much exciting for everyone. Everyone was glued to the TV in those final kilometers, it wasn’t a normal sprint finish like everyone was expecting. It was similar to Marco Pantani, who got everyone involved in cycling regardless if they were a sports fan or not.

“It’s great for cycling in general to get as many of those GC guys as possible in the one-day races. That’s what the public wants and it’s what makes cycling exciting.

“I know it’s not easy, the season’s is long. Vincenzo knows that too, but look at his decision to race Flanders,” Copeland added. “He’s fascinated by it and just wants to go there and see what’s it’s like. You don’t want to have regrets.”

Nibali held 10 seconds at the top of the famous Poggio climb, which offers a view of the blue Mediterranean Sea below and the casino town of Sanremo. He held on despite headwinds and teams like Peter Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe and Quick-Step Floors chasing behind.

The same grit saw him win the Vuelta a España in 2010, then the 2014 Tour de France and of course, two editions of his home race, the Giro d’Italia (2013, 2016). It also saw him come close before in Liège-Bastogne-Liège with a gutsy solo move that eventually netted second and saw him score two Lombardia titles.

“He’s a champion and when he puts a number on his back he’s ready,” Nibali’s trainer and Bahrain-Merida sport director Paolo Slongo told <em<VeloNews.

“This race is always an undertaking. Three hundred kilometers. Rain, sun, rain, and sun again. And in those conditions, his class comes out.”