Velo Awards: Vincenzo Nibali, True Grit Award

He attacks on the descents. He attacks on the climbs. The Italians call it “grinta,” or determination, and Nibali had it in spades in 2013

Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) attacks on the flats. He attacks on the descents. And he certainly attacks on the climbs. The Italians call it “grinta,” or determination, and Nibali had grinta in spades throughout the 2013 season.

The Shark of Messina was an attacking machine, posting one of the most impressive records of the season by any rider, with two grand-tour podiums.

Certainly, Chris Froome (Sky) was nearly flawless this season, winning nearly every stage race he started from February to his Tour de France victory in July. And the one race he didn’t win? It was Tirreno-Adriatico, in March, where a pugnacious Nibali knocked Froome into second place in cold, wet, dreary Italian spring weather.

Nibali, too, was nearly flawless in 2013, winning the Giro del Trentino in a warm-up for his utter dominance at the Giro d’Italia. After rivals Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) faded away, Nibali was on cruise control all the way to the end, claiming his first pink jersey to go along with his Vuelta a España victory in 2010; now he’s only missing a maillot jaune to complete the collection.

After skipping the Tour, Nibali reloaded for the Vuelta and worlds. Things went nearly according to plan, but he ran into a surprisingly strong Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) at the Vuelta, and was out-flanked in the worlds by the Spaniards Joaquim Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde, and the crafty race winner, Rui Costa.

But Nibali never went down without a fight. In fact, he seemed to excel in bad weather — or, at least, he continually rose above the conditions.

At the Giro, he shone on the nastiest of stages, sealing his GC win in the snow at the summit of Tre Cime di Lavaredo. At the Vuelta, he launched countless attacks against Horner in the thick fog on the race’s last climb, the impossibly steep Alto de L’Angliru. And at the world road championships in Florence, Nibali came back from a bad crash, late in the wet and slippery race, to attack on the final lap and contend for victory.

Nibali went down swinging at the end of 2013, and promises to come out doing likewise in 2014, when he’s confirmed to start the Tour and take on Froome for the yellow jersey.

With his strong time trialing credentials, it’s Nibali who presents Froome’s most dangerous challenge in 2014.

In the end, the battle could come down to grinta, which just might mean advantage Nibali.