Vincenzo Nibali will return to France on Saturday for the first time since winning the 2014 Tour de France to ride the Critérium du Dauphiné, his final stage race before he attempts to win a second consecutive Tour.
While his Astana teammates and fellow Italian Fabio Aru were battling with Alberto Contador at the Giro d’Italia, Nibali and the core of the Tour team spent two weeks at altitude on Mount Teide, doing vital training to lay the foundations for his Tour de France France. Nibali jokingly describes his stay at the Parador Hotel near the summit of the volcano as like staying at a convent, with only training, rest and watching the Giro d'Italia filling his day.
Nibali struggled to make an impact on races in the spring and finished 10th at the Tour de Romandie before beginning his Tour build-up in earnest in Tenerife. He is now reportedly a kilogramme lighter after some intense training under the watchful eye of his coach Paolo Slongo and is confident he is on track for July. He will pin on a race number for Sunday’s opening stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné before sitting down to watch Bradley Wiggins’ Hour Record attempt.
“I think I’ve worked hard and I think I’m on schedule, that’s why I’m happy. At the Dauphiné I’ll face my rivals (for the Tour) and then we’ll finish our preparation at the Passo San Pellegrino (in the Italian Dolomites). Everything follows the same programme as 2014, there’s nothing new to say!” he told Gazzetta dello Sport in an interview with Ciro Scognamiglio.
“I won’t hold back if there’s a chance to do something, that’s for sure. But my Tour de France experience has taught me that going too well at the Dauphiné is never a good thing. In 2012 I lost nine minutes on one stage but finished third overall in the Tour. Last year wasn’t too bad either. If you recall I only lost a few seconds compared to Froome and Contador. Then the final crazy stage changed the classification and Talansky won. But I felt that I ended the race in crescendo. I hope to have the same feeling this year. The team time trial stage will be a good test too, and some of the mountain stages are on the same roads as the Tour stages.”
Separate Astana teams for the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France
Nibali is spending a few days with his family at home in Lugano before heading to France. He will have the support of many of the same riders who will be part of the Astana team for the Tour de France, including Alessandro Vanotti, Michele Scarponi, Lars Boom, Lieuwe Westra, Andriy Grivko, Dmitriy Gruzdev and Rein Taaramae. This year the Astana squad has been divided into two clear teams to help Aru at the Giro d’Italia and Nibali at the Tour de France. With the team managing to hold onto its WorldTour licence despite a battle with the UCI, Astana has been able to focus on training and racing.
“By dividing the two groups for the Giro and the Tour right from the winter has meant our training and racing programmes have been clear from the start,” Nibali explained. “It means the riders are more focused and can carefully calibrate their preparation for the big goals, without wasting energy beforehand chasing results.”
Nibali revealed that he managed to watch many of the Giro d’Italia stages after his long training rides on Mount Teide. He was careful to praise fellow Italian and young teammate Fabio Aru but also had good things to say about Contador and the surprise of the Giro d’Italia Mikel Landa, who challenged Aru’s role of team leader at Astana.
“I don’t think the team can have any regrets,” Nibali said, avoiding going into details about the team’s race tactics.
“Contador took advantage of the time trial really well. I think Aru had a good Giro. He looked good in the first part; he wobbled a bit in the middle but then ended the race well, winning two stages. Landa was the big surprise and was perhaps stronger than everyone on the climbs. He was the one who caused the most problems for Contador.”
The Critérium du Dauphiné begins on Sunday with a 132km flat stage around Albertville. It ends a few hours before Bradley Wiggins’ Hour Record attempt but Nibali is keen to see what his former Tour de France rival can do on the track.
“If he sets a new record I can only congratulate him. It’ll be a big event, even if it’s perhaps difficult to compare it to those of the past because of the changes in the bike rules and the evolution of technology,” Nibali said.
“People are saying he could go close to 55km and I don’t think that’s just talk. It’s something you can programme much more than a race on the road and Wiggins was born on the track. There’s nobody like him anymore. He’s unique.”