MILAN (VN) — Italian Vincenzo Nibali is on a good track for next month’s Giro d’Italia. Team Astana says he is calmer than ever and acclimatizing after returning from 16 days at altitude in Tenerife.
Nibali is one of only two current cyclists, along with with Alberto Contador, to have won all three grand tours. This year, he is aiming for the Giro d’Italia again after winning in 2013.
With other stars Chris Froome (Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Contador (Tinkoff) racing the Tour de France this year, the pressure will be on Nibali to perform in the Giro.
“The pressure is not a problem,” Astana trainer and sport director Paolo Slongo told VeloNews. “We scare the other teams and Nibali can manage the situation.”
Some may have doubts. In the Giro del Trentino, an important build-up race, Nibali lost 32 seconds to probable Giro rival Mikel Landa (Sky) on the first mountain stage Wednesday. Slongo explained his star often suffers when dropping down from thin air and racing.
“He had a good feeling after the Tenerife camp, but it happened in the Tour de France already that he was not good right away,” Slongo said. “So the days coming down are important.”
Instead, Nibali’s Danish teammate Jakob Fuglsang took the reins and finished 14 seconds slower than Landa in stage 2 and was 10 seconds behind Landa in the general classification entering Thursday’s stage 3. Of Astana’s eight, Fuglsang was the only cyclist not to visit Spain’s volcanic island off the western coast of Africa.
Landa, however, now stands a good chance to win the Giro del Trentino’s overall title Friday with his advantage.
Astana is taking aim at the bigger Giro — the Giro d’Italia — from May 6-29. With only two weeks to go, Nibali appears calm. Last year at this point, he was struggling to reach his best for the Tour de France and Astana’s general manager Alexandre Vinokourov began to ask questions.
“Vincenzo is calmer now,” added Slongo. “Thinking of the Tour de France so far off on the horizon was hard for him because fans in Italy always wanted to see him on the attack in every race beforehand. This year, with the Giro, he’s calmer. It’s created a different atmosphere.
“Last year, he didn’t like going to some events not being on form. Now he’s running at a high level in the events he races in, 80 to 90 percent, besides when he started in Argentina this January. Already in the Tour of Oman, he was firing. But he also had has time when he’s off. I had him do 10 days of just pedaling after Tirreno-Adriatico. But starting in Tenerife, he went hard again.”
Nibali won the queen stage of the Tour of Oman to Green Mountain and the overall classification. In Tirreno-Adriatico, he did not have a chance to test himself because the race organizer canceled the main mountain stage due to bad weather.
The 2014 Tour de France winner told VeloNews in Oman, “I began slowly because I was aiming for the Tour in the last two years. I was more relaxed — which is a mistake.”
Nibali’s 2016 season is nearly flawless so far, besides Wednesday’s hiccup at Trentino. He can also be confident in the team Astana is building for the Giro d’Italia. On Tuesday, the first day of Trentino, the squad beat Sky in the 12.1-kilometer team time trial by 14 seconds.
Trentino closes with mountain stages Thursday and Friday, and then Nibali will race in Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“He is going to test himself against Landa, who will be at the Giro d’Italia, with Alejandro Valverde and Rigoberto Urán, but Landa is tough. He showed it already in País Vasco that he found his form and will be ready for the Giro,” Slongo said.
“Is Vincenzo the man to beat for the Giro? It’s hard to say. Landa has problems time trialling. Valverde is not going as he was last year, but Urán has been training in Tenerife with his teammates. Nothing’s certain.”