MILAN (VN) — Italian Vincenzo Nibali admitted he is still not in his best form following Tirreno-Adriatico, but as soon as he sheds his “dead weight,” he will be able to win. That could come as soon as Sunday when he leads team Astana in Milano-Sanremo.
“Why am I happy? I’m at 9 percent body fat and I know that the others ahead of me were leaner,” Nibali told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.
“I can cut it down to 6 percent, and as soon as I drop that dead weight …”
Nibali rode to the 2014 Tour de France title. He won the Tirreno-Adriatico overall in 2012 and 2013. In 2013, he won the Giro d’Italia overall.
At the recent Tirreno-Adriatico, he was the worst of the grand tour stars. Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won the overall, Colombian Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step) finished third at 31 seconds back, and Spaniard Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was fifth at 39 seconds back.
Nibali ended the week-long stage race through Italy’s central section in 16th, two minutes behind Quintana. His lack of form was most evident when he lost contact with the favorites with five kilometers to race up the 16.1km Monte Terminillo on Sunday.
“I wasn’t super in Tirreno-Adriatico, but I’m happy nonetheless,” Nibali added. “I had a good block of work in the race, which I’m sure is going to be useful.”
Nibali can be confident because last year he was in the same no-win situation through the end of June when he took home the Italian championship title. A week later, he won the Sheffield stage at the Tour de France and put on the leader’s yellow jersey.
Coming up, he has two blocks of altitude training scheduled — one ahead of the Ardennes Classics and one ahead of the Tour de France (Contador, Quintana, and Urán already trained at altitude before beginning their seasons).
First, he will compete in one last race to conclude his spring: La Classicissima, or Milano-Sanremo. He will support the team’s sprinter Andrea Guardini, who has five wins so far in 2015, or attack on his own in the final over the Cipressa and Poggio climbs.
“It’s a race that seems easy, but it’s complicated, very difficult,” added Nibali. “For a rider with my characteristics, to win is truly going to be an undertaking.”
The Sicilian attacked on the climb to the Cipressa hilltop town last year, but looked around and found himself alone. He continued solo, but it was useless against a speeding pack. Later, the team criticized riders like Peter Sagan for not joining Nibali.
“I realized that there’s too much distance to cover from [the Cipressa] to the Poggio. I arrived at the base of the Poggio dead, finished,” Nibali said.
“Without the Mànie climb [last used in 2013 — ed.], I’m convinced that the Cipressa could become more important. You need to go free in a group of four or five.”
Nibali name three riders who are riding strong and have the ability to attack with him: Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal).
Astana would welcome a top result. Cycling’s governing body has essentially put a noose around the team’s head and asked its license commission to pull the support from underneath.
After five doping cases in 2014 — two from the professional team — and a subsequent audit, the UCI wants to withdraw Astana’s racing license. The team has until tomorrow to hand over its defense to the license committee, which is expected to rule on the case in April.
The team, managed by former pro Alexander Vinokourov (who was caught doping at the 2007 Tour de France), could simply be slapped on the wrist or be shown cycling’s back door. If the latter, Nibali may not even race the Tour de France.