Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali watched Mathieu van der Poel win the Amstel Gold Race on a mobile telephone before the team presentation of the Tour of the Alps, seemingly more impressed with the Dutchman’s performance and victory than about their own chances of victory in the hilly five-day stage race that begins in Kufstein, Austria on Monday.
Both Nibali and Froome watched the final kilometres like any rider or racer; looking for their teammates and then admiring Van der Poel’s incredible finish with a smile and an expression of respect.
“He’s can win like that because cyclo-cross has given him that explosiveness. When he has to power through the sand or mud in a cyclo-cross race so often it trains him to produce big watts, it’s the benefit of crossing over from the two disciplines. He has trained to go the distance and kept his explosiveness,” Nibali pointed out.
Froome admitted he knew little about Van der Poel but was equally impressed.
Froome and Nibali sat side by side at the Tour of the Alps pre-race press conference, before admiring Van der Poel, any spats of the past forgotten due to their mutual respect.
They are Grand Tour rivals, having won ten Grand Tour between them and are the big draw of the 2019 Tour of the Alps even if they both played down any expectations of a duel in the Austrian and Italian Alps of the Euroregion.
This year Froome and Nibali have different goals but their paths cross track at the Tour of the Alps. Froome is targeting a fifth Tour de France victory, while Nibali is taking aim at a third Giro d’Italia before also riding in France in July. Nibali returns to racing at the Tour of the Alps after a vital two-week block of altitude training on Mount Teide, while Froome is trying to find his form by adding five days of extra racing to his schedule before headlining the launch of Team Ineos on May 1 and the Tour de Yorkshire.
“There are other riders here competing for the win,” Froome warned. “I’m really keen to see where I’m at and see it as a test. There are no big mountain top finishes to duel it out on but it’s still a punchy race to help me move the condition along.
“I missed some early racing due to not being well. I’m looking for a few more race days in the build-up to the Tour de France.”
Froome finished fourth at the 2018 Tour of the Alps before going on to win the Giro d’Italia and those memories helped convince him to return this year.
“It felt really beneficial before Giro last year. It’s stunningly beautiful, just look around here; you have to pinch due to the picturesque landscapes. It’s a pleasure to be back, I’m looking forward to a tough week of racing ahead of us.”
Nibali looking for Giro d’Italia form
Nibali won the Tour of the Alps twice when it was know as the Giro del Trentino, the last in 2013, when he won his first Giro d’Italia. He hopes the race will polish off the hard work of his training block
“The Tour of the Alps was always been important for the Giro d’Italia, I’ve got good memories and it’s always given me good form for my later goals,” Nibali explained.
“It’ll be very important to see how I’m going. I’ve worked hard for the Giro. The stages here aren’t long but they are intense and so we’ll need to be ready. I don’t know if there’ll be duel between me and Chris, there could be riders who are better, so we could only be third and fourth.”
The Tour of the Alps will be Froome’s last race in Team Sky kit before he pulls on the expected black and burgundy Team Ineos colours.
“It’ll feel stranger after 10 years,” Froome said of the change. “They’ve been an incredible sponsor and so it would be nice top finish off on a good note this week.
Nibali is currently considering his options for 2020 after talks with Bahrain-Merida stumbled. He has talked to Trek-Segafredo and couldn’t help but laugh when a local cyclist at the Tour of the Alps team presentation asked him to autograph his Trek bike.
Nibali admitted any decision about his future will be “complicated”.
For now he is focused on preparing for the Giro d’Italia and studying his teammates at the Tour of the Alps before Bahrain-Merida selects the final seven riders who will support him at the Giro d’Italia which begins in just three weeks.