Road

Nibali: ‘The worlds will be like a blind date’

Although he is not quite at 100 percent due to Tour de France crash, Vincenzo Nibali holds out hope that he can vie for a rainbow jersey.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) looks curiously ahead to his “blind date” at the world championship road race Sunday in Innsbruck given his difficult run-in to the event.

The 33-year-old and his teammate Gianni Moscon offer Italy its best chance to win the rainbow jersey for the first time since 2008. The grand tour star this year won Milano-Sanremo in a solo attack not seen in decades. A crash with a fan in the Tour de France, however, put everything in doubt.

“It’s been a rough road to get here,” Nibali told Tutto Bici.

“It was also tough after the Vuelta a España for me. But the meeting with the national team this week helped us all find harmony.

“I can’t compare any of the other races after the Vuelta to how I’m feeling today. So I think that this worlds will be like a blind date for me.”

Nibali hopes to add a rainbow jersey to his collection of leader’s jerseys from winning the Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, and Tour de France. The climbing course in Innsbruck, where Nibali arrives Friday, suits him more than any other in recent years.

With its 4,670 meters of climbing, the only recent course that comes close is the Florence world championship race in 2013, which had around 3,373.

However, Nibali is uncertain. He crashed with a fan in the Tour de France’s stage to Alpe d’Huez.

A spectator’s camera strap or a similar item hooked his handlebars. He fell hard but jumped back on his bike and finished only 13 seconds behind the leaders. X-rays that night showed a vertebra fracture and Nibali abandoned.

After surgery and 20 days off the bike, the Vuelta a España helped him find his form and race rhythm again. In Spain, often he attacked often to join the escapes and improved gradually.

“I’m fine, but I’m not super,” he said earlier this month.

“I have a good base after coming from the Vuelta, but I’m missing that ‘bullet’ that really makes the difference. Maybe I will find it in the coming days before the worlds, or after, at the end of the season!

“I’m not 100 percent. I believe at 90, or 80 percent.”

Italy likely could back Moscon as well, who also left the Tour de France early after the jury disqualified him for throwing a punch at another cyclist. His Sky teammate Geraint Thomas continued without him to win the race overall.

Moscon served his suspension and returned to win his first race back, the Coppa Agostoni. He followed it with a victory in the Giro della Toscana ahead of Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale).

“It’s up to the team to decide our roles,” Moscon said. “Vincenzo Nibali is a champion, without a doubt, and he deserves to be the captain just given the weight he carries.

“It’s clear, on the day of the worlds in Innsbruck, the legs will do the talking and we will know who should have his chance for victory.”

Italy faces favorites including Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Frenchmen Bardet and Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), and the British twins Adam and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).