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Nibali’s Liege attack builds confidence, may land Giro spot

Italian's long-range attack comes up short at La Doyenne, but gives hope for the Tour, and a possible Giro start

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LIÈGE, Belgium (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) came incredibly close to winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège today in Belgium. A long-range solo attack gave the Italian confidence ahead of his Tour de France preparation, but may have also landed him on Liquigas’ Giro d’Italia roster.

Seeing opportunity on the Roche aux Faucons, Nibali put in a solo bid of nearly 20 kilometers, only to fall short to Maxim Iglinsky on the final false flat before the finish. In the same breath that he commended Iglinsky, Nibali said he would rather have been overtaken by a rival with more star power.

“He’s [a] great rider,” the Italian said, “If [Philippe] Gilbert had passed me then I would’ve been happier.”

Iglinsky was a 66-to-1 long shot to win ahead of the race. He benefited from a strong Astana team with companions Robert Kiserlovski and Amstel Gold winner Enrico Gasparotto in the finale.

Nibali, on the other hand, benefited from his experience and strength. He won his biggest one-day race six years ago at the GP Plouay and was the overall winner of the Vuelta a España in 2010.

The Italian is aiming for Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Fränk and Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) at the Tour de France this July. But he has always kept a place close to his heart for the Ardennes classics, specifically Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Many Italian pros can tell stories about growing up and watching the race on television. They formed their cycling dreams around the wins by Paolo Bettini, Michele Bartoli and Moreno Argentin.

“I did something great,” Nibali explained. “I believed I could do well here, I was thinking about it all this week. I didn’t make any mistakes, just lacked a bit in my legs in the finish.”

From Belgian television, it wasn’t so clear just how close Iglinsky was to catching Nibali until they were only meters apart. The Kazakh attacked ahead of the Saint Nicolas climb and dropped his companion, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) on the climb with 6.3km to race. Only Nibali remained ahead.

Nibali attacked on the Côte de La Roche aux Faucons and broke free on the descent, 19.5km from the finish. Those descending skills allowed Nibali to ride clear in Milan-San Remo with Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) and Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) last month.

On Sunday his advantage grew to 45 seconds, but that was to the seemingly unmotivated favorites group with Philippe Gilbert (BMC). Iglinsky was much closer.

“I used all I could to get ahead on Saint Nicolas, but… It’s a shame. I believed in myself up until the point that I saw Iglinsky. I tried to stay on his wheel, but… uff!”

Iglinsky caught Nibali and rode clear at the base of the final 1.3km ramp to the finish line in Ans, on the outskirts of Liège. The Kazakh rode onto the Italian’s wheel, then edged around him, looking at Nibali’s face. What he saw was anguish; Nibali’s hips rocked over his pedals and Iglinsky attacked, building out his advantage all the way to the line.

“We simply found a stronger rival,” Liquigas sports director, Alberto Volpi told VeloNews. “He rode a great race. If you consider that he’s not even still at his best, then you have to be amazed.”

Nibali wants to ride the Tour of California and the Critérium du Dauphiné to prepare for the Tour de France, but the team may take him to its home race in Italy next month with Ivan Basso appearing off-form. The squad needs a good race to find a new sponsor or to convince Liquigas to renew, as its current deal expires at the end of the year.

Given what he did today — an attack to drop Gilbert and further distance the Schlecks — anything is possible in the Giro or the Tour.

“What he showed on the Roche aux Faucons today was the ingredients of a champion,” said Volpi.

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