MILAN (VN) — It’s official: Italian Vincenzo Nibali signed with the new Middle Eastern team from Bahrain Wednesday, and he will lead the squad into 2017, likely in the WorldTour.
Nibali is one of only two current cyclists alongside Spain’s Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) with wins at all three grand tours in his palmarès. With his current team Astana, he won the Giro d’Italia in May for a second time.
He is the first rider announced for the team, expected to be in the 2017 WorldTour.
[related title=”More on Vincenzo Nibali” align=”right” tag=”Vincenzo-Nibali”]
“I was immediately fascinated by the idea of a strong project plan built around me,” Nibali said today. “I have believed in the team from day one, because it has a clear vision and is to be carried out by some of the best professionals in the sport.
“This trust and confidence in me made me take the final decision for this new exciting adventure of my career. I can’t wait to meet their expectations at the most important races in the world wearing the jersey of Bahrain – Merida.”
Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who competes in Ironman events and with show horses, announced the team in February. Nibali was immediately linked to the team, which will be the first top-level squad from the Middle East.
The 31-year-old Sicilian will close out his season with Astana, he is racing in the Olympics road race on Saturday, and will begin 2017 with Bahrain in its red and gold kit. The team did not say for how many years he signed.
It did scoop one of the most versatile grand tour cyclists. Nibali is considered one of the four “bigs” in grand tours with Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). However, out of that group he is the only one to perform in one-day monuments. Last October, he won Il Lombardia to add to a palmarès that already includes a second place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and third place in Milano-Sanremo.
Bahrain – Merida will likely rely on ‘The Shark’ for some early classics like Milano-Sanremo and of course, grand tours. Next year, the Giro d’Italia will celebrate its 100th edition and the organizer will pressure the top Italian to return to defend his title. Otherwise, Nibali may decide to try for a second Tour de France title after his 2014 win.
This autumn, he and Brent Copeland will discuss their plans. The South African is leaving his management job at Lampre – Merida to head the Prince’s new team. As the name indicates, he is taking the co-sponsor, Taiwanese bike manufacturer Merida, with him.
Louis Meintjes, who was eighth in the Tour de France, and Diego Ulissi should also follow from Lampre – Merida. Nibali will bring Alessandro Vanotti and Valerio Agnoli from Astana and his long-time coach Paolo Slongo.
Insiders say that Manuele Boaro (from Tinkoff), Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani – CSF), and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) will also race with Bahrain in 2017.
Nibali, twice Italian national champion in 2014 and 2015, will stay true to his roots. He began racing with Italian teams Fassa Bortolo and Liquigas. He switched to Kazakh team Astana in 2013, but that team is half-Italian with manager Giuseppe Martinelli at the helm and many others from the Bel Paese.
Copeland is a long-time Como resident. He managed American Ben Spies in Moto GP and South African team MTN – Qhubeka when it debuted in Europe in 2012, but spent many years with Italy’s Lampre – Merida team. With Copeland and its base near Bergamo, and possible Italian WorldTour license, team Bahrain – Merida will feel like home for Nibali.