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Don’t say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Or, in this case, an old shark.
Vincenzo Nibali is eyeing new goals for what could be his final season next year. The 36-year-old returns to his old “family” at Astana-Qazaqstan in 2022 and is contemplating adding fresh challenges to his perennial grand tour pursuits.
“I still don’t know what my plans will be for next season. The podium at the Giro? Why not … but you have to keep your feet on the ground, the competition is very high,” Nibali told OA Sport. “And then there is Paris-Roubaix that I’ve never raced, maybe next season could be the right one.”
Nibali is not a total stranger to Roubaix’s cobbles – in fact, one of his greatest victories was forged on the punishing pavé. The Sicilian placed third while Chris Froome crashed out on the cobblestone stage of the 2014 Tour de France in a dramatic day that put Nibali on the pathway to his only yellow jersey.
The cobblestones of Roubaix could be just the start of Nibali’s late-career ride on the rough stuff.
Nibali’s life in the saddle grew out of his mountain-biking youth, and it turns out “the Shark” may look to close his time in the peloton with some off-road races too.
“I like mountain biking — that’s how I started cycling — and for the end of my career I hope to be able to do some races, just for fun,” he said.
A ‘return to people important to me’ at Astana Qazaqstan
Although Nibali is still some way from mapping out the shape of what could be his swansong season, the 36-year-old is hoping a return to old friends at Astana will see him enjoy a final flourish before he hangs up his wheels.
Nibali scored two Giro d’Italia victories, his Tour de France yellow jersey, and a whole lot more during four prolific seasons with the Kazakh squad. He’ll be hoping that his old Astana allies return him to the winner’s circle after a stagnant two seasons with Trek-Segafredo.
“Trek-Segafredo was a team that I struggled to integrate with for various reasons, including language,” Nibali said. “It was an important step though, because it was something I was missing. When I initially switched to Trek-Segafredo I found myself very well, then after the lockdown some mechanism broke. It’s been two difficult years, both physically and mentally, in which I couldn’t find my ideal place.”
Nibali is not the only rider to return to the embrace of old friends at Astana next season. Miguel Ángel López also makes what he described as “a return home” to Astana after his high-profile fallout with Movistar.
So what makes it work at Astana?
For Nibali, a heavy Italian presence in the team’s management-room and a large Italian rider group — including new signings Gianni Moscon, Valerio Conti, Leonardo Basso, and Nibali’s brother Antonio — is likely a major draw after the multi-lingual Trek team.
Nibali cited long-term team manager Beppe Martinelli in particular as an important factor.
“I am very happy because in Astana I return to people who are important to me. There have been ups and downs with them too, but it happens everywhere,” Nibali said of the move.
“Beppe was — and is — a very important person for me. With him, I managed to get great results and I have a lot of faith in him. Over the years we have clashed, as happens even in the most beautiful families, but the important thing is to know how to find solutions. And I’ve always found them with him.”
Nibali closed out his fallow spell with Trek-Segafredo with his first win in 797 days at his home race the Giro di Sicilia last month. He’ll be hoping home comforts at Astana Qazaqstan means the next win won’t be so long coming.