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Nibali: I have four good years ahead of me

Vincenzo Nibali is among greatest Italian cyclists ever but says he is realistic about comparisons to Fausto Coppi, who won seven grand tours.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali, with the 2017 season about to begin, says that he is thankful for his four grand tour wins so far. Achieving five, would put him alongside Italy’s greatest cyclists.

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Italians Alfredo Binda, Gino Bartali, and Felice Gimondi each count five grand tour wins. Only Fausto Coppi has more, with seven. Belgian Eddy Merckx holds the record with 11, including five wins from the Tour de France.

“To already have four titles at home isn’t a small thing,” the Sicilian told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. “In some difficult moments, I’ve reflected and thought, ‘Alright, I’ve already accomplished something.’

“The people always expect that you’ll win and if you don’t, it’s as if you failed. But to be beaten is not the same as failing.”

Nibali broke through with his 2010 Vuelta a España win. He won the Giro d’Italia in 2013 and the Tour de France in 2014. In 2016, he returned to the Giro d’Italia and took over the leader’s pink jersey in the final mountain day.

Of the active cyclists, only Spaniard Alberto Contador (Trek – Segafredo) counts more grand tour wins with seven.

Nibali will lead his new Bahrain – Merida team to the Giro d’Italia this May 5 to 28. The race starts in Sardinia and visits his home island, Sicily, during stages 4 and 5.

He will like go up against Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Esteban Chaves (Orica – Scott), Fabio Aru (Astana), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL – Jumbo), Bauke Mollema (Trek – Segafredo), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Mikel Landa (Sky), and American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing). If he wins, ‘The Shark’ will equal the record jointly held by Italian trio Binda, Bartali, and Gimondi.

“They are symbols of another cycling. Far off, almost ancient,” Nibali, 32, said. “I’ve seen many images, I read about those times, but I don’t think I’ll never fully understand what the sport was like then.

“Sometimes, I think I’d like to be a past cyclist to understand what it truly meant to be racing then. It’s beautiful to imagine, but you can never fully appreciate what it was like.”

Binda won the Giro five times (1925, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1933). Bartali won the Tour twice and the Giro three times. Bartali holds the record for the longest gap between Tour wins, his first came before World War II in 1938 and his second in 1948 came afterward. Gimondi ruled in the 1960s with one win each in the Tour and Vuelta, and three in the Giro. He is the only one of the three still alive.

Nibali’s problem is that younger riders are improving and making life difficult for his quest to add another grand tour to his palmarès. Last year, Chaves, 26, and then 29-year-old Kruijswijk nearly defeated him.

“I’m no longer young. I have more years as a professional behind me than I have ahead of me. I’m starting to be one of the experts. I see four good years ahead of me,” Nibali added.

“I don’t want to think of it too much now. I have a new team, a new three-year project. Others tried to sign me, not only Mister Segafredo [Segafredo boss Massimo Zanetti, sponsor for team Trek – Segafredo]. The other teams accepted my decision quietly. It was less about the money than about having a team built around me.”

Nibali will attend the team Bahrain – Merida launch on the Persian Gulf island this week and travel to Argentina to begin his season in the Tour de San Juan, January 23 to 29.

“I don’t even think about it,” Nibali said when asked about reaching Coppi’s record of seven grand tour wins. “And if World War II didn’t stop Coppi and Bartali, how much more could they have won?”