SAN JUAN, Argentina (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) says you do not understand cycling if you consider his 2014 Tour de France victory a stroke of luck. He aims to prove the naysayers wrong this summer, four years later.
“It wasn’t a fluke. It’s just those who understand very little about cycling and who haven’t understood how I have developed and how I won races leading up to that day,” Nibali told VeloNews.
Nibali is now going back to repeat 2014, the year Froome crashed a few times and abandoned in the Roubaix stage during week one. Some say, had Froome remained, the win might have never come.
“Think about all the races I lost over the years or where I finished second by seconds because I was sick or crashed,” he added.
Nibali placed runner-up many times but also counts four grand tour wins: two in the Giro d’Italia, one in the Vuelta a España, and of course, the 2014 Tour.
In 2017, riding with the Middle East’s first team, Bahrain-Merida, created by Prince Nasser, he placed third in the Giro behind winner Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and second in the Vuelta behind Froome. He won a stage in both races.
“I’m very continuous and consistent. I have faith in myself, why shouldn’t I?” Nibali said.
“Why not win the Tour this year? It’s possible. We want to do it for a great classification. In a big race like the Tour, Giro, or Vuelta, you can’t say you are going to win … OK, for sure, I am going to try to win, but, I have much respect for my rivals, I fear them because they are serious, top cyclists. I can’t take anything for granted.
“Dumoulin is improving, but someone is always leaving and someone arriving. Contador quit this year, a great rider, and at the same time, Tom Dumoulin comes in and wins a Giro.
“Tom is very strong, he showed that in the Giro, that he can control it. However, there were a few moments, and I’m not talking about the Bormio stage, where he had some small problems. In those moments, we should have turned the screws on him more.
“The beauty of cycling is when you get all these riders facing off in a grand tour, and maybe it gives you a bit of uncertainty of who will win and you don’t always have the same winner all the time … Besides this other rider who’s always able to win. Froome? Well, he wins all the time, so yes.”
At the mention of Froome, Nibali continued to speak about the Salbutamol case from the 2017 Vuelta for 20 minutes. Only the need to finish some last-minute work and pack for his flight home from Argentina, where he could not start the Vuelta a San Juan due to a fever, forced him to stop.
Froome tested for twice the legal limit of the asthma drug after stage 18 of the Vuelta and risks losing his title, which could go to Nibali.
“In the end, if tomorrow the Vuelta win is given to me, it won’t have the same flavor,” he said. “It’s coming from someone being suspended. It’s not the same.”
Nibali tried to avoid saying so directly, but he wants Froome to sit out and not race until the courts rule on his Salbutamol case.
“Froome faces the decision. I would advise him as a friend, even if we are not that friendly, to make the best decision for this sport. For the fans and the current movement in cycling. He knows. He knows the facts and the process.
Nibali left Argentina this week without ever pinning number on his back. A bacteria and fever hit him the morning of stage one, forcing him to cancel his plans.
“It hit me at the wrong time,” he said. “Had it happened the night before, I could have at least began the stage. Now, I’ll go to the Dubai and start my season.”
He added, “It’s better that Chris doesn’t race,” then left for the airport and a flight home.
He appeared relaxed. The team is in its second year and the management ironed out all the kinks. “Everything’s going well,” Nibali said. “When that’s the case, you are ready for the fight.”