Nibali brushes off struggles at Tour of Oman

The Italian says not being in top condition right now "means nothing"

GREEN MOUNTAIN, Oman (VN) — Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) won and Chris Froome (Sky) placed in the Ruta del Sol’s stage 3, but the king of the 2014 Tour de France, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), lost 2:27 in the Tour of Oman on Friday.

“What does this mean for the Tour? It means nothing. We are in February, that’s in July,” Nibali said.

“It’s completely different, with riders who’ll have different conditions, so it doesn’t have meaning. If you think about the spring races, the classics, then yes, but for the Tour, no.”

Contador paved his way to the Ruta del Sol’s overall victory with his stage win up Alto de Hazallanas. The race in southern Spain ends Sunday. This season, Contador will attempt to win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. Froome is aiming further ahead to the Tour.

The only big grand tour star not racing Friday was Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who after winning the 2014 Giro d’Italia wants the Tour title. The Colombian will begin his season in Italy at Tirreno-Adriatico next month.

Across the Mediterranean Sea and over the Arabian Peninsula, Nibali is racing his second event of the season after the Dubai Tour two weeks ago. On Friday, he began the attacks at the base of the 5.7-kilometer climb up Green Mountain, but slowly faded and closed the queen stage of the Tour of Oman in 21st place.

“Basically, the riders that I dropped brought me back one by one,” Nibali said while adding an extra layer of clothing for the descent back down the mountain.

“We tried to play our cards for Jakob Fuglsang, he was going well. We tried to make a selection, to break up the group and cause confusion.”

Nibali performed better in the past three years. He won the Green Mountain stage in 2012 and in 2014, five months ahead of his Tour win, he lost 1:45 to stage winner Froome.

“I think that [my condition] is better than last year, not like three years ago when I won, but better than last year,” Nibali continued.

“I’m not yet in condition, clearly, you see it, but there are riders here who’ve already been at altitude camps to prepare for the start of the season, so it’s important, but not too much.”

In 2014, alarm bells rang in Italy and on the Kazakh team when Nibali reached June behind and without a win. That changed during the Critérium du Dauphiné and a week later, when he won the Italian road championship. Another week after that, he took the Tour de France’s yellow jersey after winning in Leeds, his first of four stage victories in the race.

Nibali had also come off a difficult winter when his wife was pregnant. The couple welcomed baby Emma after the 2014 Tour of Oman.

Questions remain, however, with Contador and Froome clearly riding strong and Nibali coming off a winter spent traveling to and from galas and other appointments as the reigning Tour champ.

“It’s the second race that I’ve done,” Nibali said. “You either aim for the Oman victory or remain calm. I’ll continue to work like I’ve always done. I’m not that much off. I feel that I’m better day after day.”

Nibali descended Green Mountain. The Tour champion will race this weekend in the final two stages at the tour of Oman, but he said his next big test will be the Monte Terminillo summit finish in Tirreno-Adriatico, where he will race against Quintana, Froome, and Contador.