Vincenzo Nibali already forged his legacy as one of cycling’s greats. With two of the five monuments and four grand tours victories, including becoming one of the few riders to win all three grand tours, the Italian superstar has nothing to prove.
Yet Nibali has some unfinished business in what is the Sicilian’s final quest — an Olympic gold medal.
Not that cycling’s other challenges don’t tickle his fancy, but at 36, it’s the allure of Olympic success that is getting the Trek-Segafredo captain out on the roads often and early in 2021.
“Winning the Olympics is a nice dream,” Nibali said. “It’s also complicated. It only comes every four years, so the objective is to be there in good condition.”
The road to Tokyo will go through the grand tours. Nibali has committed to racing the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in succession, yet made it clear that he has no intention in trying to win either or to become the first rider since Marco Pantani in 1998 to win both in one season.
For the Giro, he vows to take it “day by day” in a team that will also include Bauke Mollema and Giulio Ciccone. The Tour will likely turn into a race-speed training camp for the Olympics, with perhaps a run at a stage victory for good measure.
“With the COVID protocols, we don’t know how much of the Tour I will be able to race,” Nibali said about the still-unconfirmed participation rules for Tokyo. “The Tour is the best preparation. You saw how well riders were going in the world championships after racing the Tour.”
Following a sub-par 2020 season that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, Nibali did not shine as bright as he normally does. He struggled to find form coming out of the shutdown, and admitted he lost steam in the final week of the rescheduled Giro, riding into Milano an uncharacteristic seventh without ever truly pressing for the podium. Boasting 52 victories on palmarès, the 2020 season was his first winless season since his rookie campaign in 2005.
Nibali demurred when questioned about when he might retire — he’s off contract at the end of 2021 — but he knows this is his last shot at the Olympic medal. In 2016, he was leading heading into the closing kilometers at Rio de Janeiro when he crashed on the final descent. Other leading riders also went down, opening the door for Greg Van Avermaet to strike gold in Brazil.
That close call is spurring him on to fill one of the few remaining blank spaces — along with an elite men’s road racing world title — on the canvas of his career.
“The motivation is always there to win,” he said. “The young guys are coming fast. 2020 was a difficult season, but I hope this season will unfold without disruption, and I can have a bit of a ‘revenge.’ The Olympics are a special event. It’s a one-day race, with many factors. It’s one of the big goals for the season.”
Elite men’s Olympic road champions since 1996
- 1996 Atlanta – Pascal Richard (Swi)
- 2000 Sydney — Jan Ullrich (Ger)
- 2004 Athens — Paolo Bettini (Ita)
- 2008 Beijing — Samuel Sánchez (Spa)
- 2012 London — Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz)
- 2016 Rio de Janeiro — Greg Van Avermaet (Bel)
(Since professionals were allowed to compete)