Bahrain-Merida have confirmed Vincenzo Nibali as their team leader for the Tour de France, with senior directeur sportif Gorazd Stangelj saying Nibali would “aim for the GC”. However, the Sicilian reiterated at the Italian national championships over the weekend that he will take things day to day, with the first mountain at La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 6 giving an indication of his form and true chances.
World time trial champion Rohan Dennis, sprinter Sonny Colbrelli, Dylan Teuns and Matej Mohoric are also part of the Bahrain-Merida squad, with Spain’s Ivan Cortina, Damiano Caruso and Jan Tratnik completing their balanced and eclectic line-up.
Nibali finished second in the Giro d’Italia behind Richard Carapaz (Movistar) and has only raced the Gran Premio Città di Lugano and Sunday’s Italian national championships since the corsa rosa. He focused on recovery for two weeks and then spent time with Caruso and their respective families in the Italian Alps, doing some carefully balanced training.
“I didn’t ride my bike for about three days after the Giro. I’d done a lot of work and so in recent weeks it was about maintaining my form,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday. The Sicilian didn’t finish the national championships won by Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), after working to help Colbrelli, who won the sprint for second.
“I don’t know what I can do [in the Tour de France], I’ll live day to day and see what happens,” Nibali explained.
“The first mountain finish [to La Planche des Belle Filles] is always difficult to get right and it’s a very hard climb. It can help you compare yourself against everyone else and understand your chances.”
“As usual, the Tour de France route is very demanding and there are several ascents beyond 2,000 metres that will make more selection. It's difficult to say who is the favourite. Certainly, there are several riders who can win and I am sure it will be a tough battle.”
Nibali is widely expected to leave Bahrain-Merida for Trek-Segafredo in 2020 but has often performed better in his final year with a team. He won the 2014 Tour de France while negotiating a new contract with Astana and won the 2016 Giro d’Italia before leaving the Kazakhstani team for Bahrain-Merida in 2016.
In the absence of Chris Froome, Nibali and Geraint Thomas will be the only previous Tour de France winners in this year’s race.
“We are convinced on having a great Tour de France. When you go to any race with a rider as talented as Vincenzo Nibali you know it’s going to be an exciting one and this is what we are looking forward to. The results with Dylan Teuns and Rohan Dennis have shown that we are moving in the right direction to make for some great racing," team manager Brent Copeland said.
“It’s a complete team,” Stangelj explained. “We’ll be competitive in any kind of stage. Vincenzo will be able to aim for the GC, while Dylan and Matej Mohoric will be the day strikers. Add two sprinters like Sonny Colbrelli and the young Ivan Garcia Cortina and then Dennis for the time trials, plus two solid riders like Damiano Caruso and Jan Tratnik, complete a well balanced team.”
Dennis finished second overall behind Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) at the Tour de Suisse. He has made it clear that he will back Nibali but will play a major role in the stage 2 team time trial and target the Pau individual time trial.
“I have been working well in the last weeks and the podium in Switzerland confirmed this. My goal for the Tour is to do well in some stages, like for example the Pau time trial, and help my teammates win as much as possible,” Dennis explained.
Bahrain-Merida for the Tour de France: Vincenzo Nibali, Damiano Caruso, Matej Mohoric, Ivan Garcia Cortina, Sonny Colbrelli, Dylan Teuns, Rohan Dennis and Jan Tratnik.