ZALLAQ, Bahrain (VN) — Grand tour star Vincenzo Nibali says that the birth of his Bahrain-Merida team this 2017 season makes him proud.
The Sicilian begins a new era after 11 years with teams Liquigas/Cannondale and Astana, when he won the Vuelta a España, Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. He starts a three-year contract with the team that he began with Bahrain’s Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa in 2015. This month, following Sunday’s presentation on the Persian Gulf island, it debuts.
“I’m proud,” Nibali said.
“I’ve been in great teams before. It’s just that this is a completely new team and from a far off country like Bahrain.”
Nibali sat in a small circle with journalists at the Sofitel Luxury Hotel on the island’s west coast Saturday. Tomorrow, he and his 26 teammates meet with the prince to officially send off the WorldTour team. It debuts with the Australian Tour Down Under and builds towards the Giro d’Italia in May, where Nibali will try to win for a third time.
“I went to Bahrain twice over the last two years and the prince came to Europe,” said Nibali. “Probably he selected me for how I race, how I attack and wait for my chances.”
Nibali could have easily turned away from the prince and stayed with Fabio Aru in team Astana or accepted the offer to join Trek-Segafredo.
“I like to take the hard way! The important thing is that here I could decide on the people who were going to work at my side: my trainer Paolo Slongo, some team-mates, my brother Antonio.
“It’s very different than Astana, with a different mentality, but I wasn’t bad off in Astana, not at all.”
Nibali won the Vuelta in 2010 with team Liquigas, and after he joined the turquoise Astana team he won the Tour and the Giro twice, including the 2016 edition in May.
The Bahrain-Merida team runs on a modest $18 million budget. With not so much money to throw around, the team gave its attention to Nibali. Other stars include Spaniard Ion Izaguirre (from Movistar), Australian Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) and Italian Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert).
Nibali will race to become one of only five Italians to win three editions of the Giro. It is a unique year as he will be defending his title in the 100th edition of the race.
“The responsibilities on my shoulders don’t change much. In the last years, I was the one who had the most attention on his shoulders,” he said. “Also if I had gone to a different team, my role wouldn’t change. It’s always been the same role that they’ve given me.”
The Giro will begin on May 5 in Sardinia. It will pass three days on the island and transfer to Sicily, Nibali’s home, for two more stages. Afterwards, the race charges north to the Alps.
“It’s not going to be easy to win. I have many riders to overcome,” added Nibali. “Quintana is one of the strongest men in the mountains. I’ll need to keep an eye on him if he comes. He wasn’t super in the 2016 Tour, but he was truly impressive in the Vuelta. But which Quintana will race?
“It’s a special year, but with the atmosphere that we’ve created in the team, we can all work well and in harmony.”