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Vincenzo Nibali wants to be grand tour contender again but beating Tadej Pogačar won’t be easy

Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders are still on the table for the Italian as he plans out his 2022 season.

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After a year that gave him little to smile about, Vincenzo Nibali wants to enjoy himself again.

The 36-year-old rode away with two wins at the end of the 2021 season but he endured some difficult moments. He broke his wrist before the Giro d’Italia and struggled to find his groove, and though he managed to get a spot at the Olympics he had a difficult road race in Tokyo.

With a fresh start for next year — well, sort of — at Astana, Nibali has been working hard and he wants to be a factor in races again.

“In the next years I would like to be a protagonist and I want to play the role of the leader in the races. I still have power and I still work a lot. I want to start the season in good form,” Nibali said in a group call from Astana’s off-season training camp. “We will see if I can concentrate on the classics or the grand tours.

Also read: Vincenzo Nibali eyes Paris-Roubaix, MTB swansong with Astana Qazaqstan

“The rivals in the peloton in the last years have increased a lot but I still think I can be there among the best riders. I want to do this season without any pressure, I just want to enjoy it and try to get some good results.”

During his career, Nibali has shown himself well capable of winning one-day races and grand tours. He has won three monument titles — one Milan-San Remo and two at Il Lombardia — as well as winning each of the grand tours at least once.

While some of his monument wins have come more recently, Nibali hasn’t won a three-week race since he left Astana at the end of 2016. He has been on the podium since, but it is getting harder and, with some very strong younger riders coming up through the ranks, Nibali doesn’t know if he’ll ever be on the top step again.

“It’s a difficult question. On the one side, I still feel I have some power and freshness in the legs and I’m ready for some good results. However, it is not easy because there are a lot of contenders now, like [Tadej] Pogačar, and it’s not easy against them,” he said. “Also, the last two seasons have not been very good so it is difficult to say at this time of the year how the following season will go on. I had some bad luck also and many things have to come together to get a good result in the grand tours. We will see.”

Heading back to the cobbles?

Nibali wouldn’t confirm his plans for 2022 aside from his season start in Spain at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in February. Nibali and his team should have firmer ideas of his schedule before the team training camp ends on December 20.

In October, Nibali mused about the possibility of making his Paris-Roubaix debut next year as he closes in on the end of his career. A return to the Tour of Flanders could also be on the cards in 2022.

He remained open about the possibility of hitting the cobbles next spring but said that he will have to weigh things up, particularly as Paris-Roubaix has been swapped weekends with the Amstel Gold Race to avoid a clash with local French elections.

“The calendar is still to be discussed with the management because there are some ideas about what will be done but, so far, I don’t want to say anything about one race and not others,” he said. “Of course, I would like to take part in the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, but at the same time, Paris-Roubaix is very close to Liège-Bastogne-Liège so there could be problems. In the end, I will decide with the directors what is the best option.”

Nibali will ride in the team colors of Astana-Qazaqstan in 2022 after leaving them following a four-year stint with the team. The squad was his first non-Italian team since turning professional, though it has an Italian accent to it.

After five years away from the team, he returns as a different person and a different rider. He has spent more time at foreign teams and now speaks reasonable English. He’s also gained a wealth more experience on the bike and has become one of the elder statesmen in the peloton.

“It’s completely different. Many years ago, when I went to Astana for the first time, for me it was a new adventure,” Nibali said. “Now, it’s not the same, but for me, it is a bigger responsibility because there are many younger riders and I have the responsibility to share some experience with them.”