The Sicilian struggled on the first mountaintop finish at the Cerro Al Amago on stage 4. Quickly dropped under the impetus of eventual overall winner Dayer Quintana (Movistar) on the final climb, Nibali lost more than five minutes on the stage. However on the mighty Filo de la Sierra de Comechingones on the penultimate day, Nibali was in decidedly better form, as he put in a solid stint to set up teammate Miguel Angel Lopez for the stage victory, while helping himself to eighth on the stage.
“The signs I was looking for have arrived, we’ll go forward with optimism,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport after travelling back to Italy the Tour de San Luis.
Nibali admitted that tackling a climb with an altitude of more than 2,100 metres had been a difficult ask for the month of January, but declared himself satisfied with his showing on the day.
“At this point [in the season], the advantage is with people who are used to that heat and that altitude too – once we got above 2,000 metres on Saturday I was struggling with my breathing a bit,” Nibali said. “But on the finishing climb I did thirty minutes full on, working for Lopez, who won the stage. And I wasn’t even really very tired at the finish.”
Nibali won the Tour de San Luis six years ago – “Compared to when I won in 2010, the level of competition has increased a lot,” he said – and has since opted to start his season in Argentina on all but two occasions. After missing the race a year ago, Nibali seemed pleased to return to his traditional programme, and availed of the trip to South America to reconnoitre the Olympic Games road race course in Rio beforehand. He will forgo RCS Sport’s Dubai Tour next week and instead undertake a 12-day training camp at Mount Teide in Tenerife, before lining up at the Tour of Oman from February 16-21, where he will face off against Richie Porte (BMC) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and possibly fight for overall success on the stage to Green Mountain.
For the past two seasons, Nibali has struggled for form in the spring and had to wait until the Italian Championships in June for his first victory of the year. This time around, as Nibali builds towards the Giro d’Italia instead of the Tour de France, his trainer Paolo Slongo was optimistic that he could collect significant results a lot earlier in the year.
“Compared to the past two seasons, Vincenzo is thinner and was improving as the race concluded. We can be satisfied,” Slongo told Gazzetta. “In 2014 and 2015, we only thought about the Tour de France, but he didn’t like that fact that he wasn’t able to find his form in the early season and was going without victories.”