Vincenzo Nibali joins up with his Italian teammates today for some final training before flying to Rio for the Olympic Games. The Sicilian is the leader of the five-rider men’s road race team that will compete for one of the first medals of the 2016 Games on Sunday August 6. He will also ride the time trial on August 10.
Nibali set the Giro d’Italia and the hilly Rio road race as his major goals for 2016, sacrificing his hopes of overall success in the Tour de France in the hope of a medal. Also in the Italian team are Nibali’s Astana teammates Fabio Aru and Diego Rosa, and BMC riders Alessandro De Marchi and Damiano Caruso. De Marchi is the only one of the quintet not to have ridden the Tour de France and will take part in Saturday’s Clasica San Sebastian before joining the Italian team and national coach Davide Cassani for the flight to Rio.
The Italians will have one of the strongest teams in Rio but face serious opposition from the likes of Chris Froome and Adam Yates (Great Britain), Greg van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Alejandro Valverde (Spain), Romain Bardet and Julian Alaphilippe (France) and Rui Costa (Portugal). The testing 237.5km road race route is expected to see a battle between the best Grand tour climbers and strongest hilly Classics riders. The route includes a flat loop out of Rio, four laps of a two-hill circuit and then three laps of the Vista Chinesa 25km circuit that includes an 8.9km climb at an average of 6.2%. The start and finish overlooks the Copacabana beach.
Ready to make a point
Nibali will head to Rio with good form after finishing the Tour de France but revealed to Gazzetta dello Sport that he is still angry and looking to make a point after being criticised for his performances at the Tour de France.
“I’m not a robot. Everybody always expects a lot from me, I get that but I never said I was going for the classification. That’s why I think I was far to heavily criticised when I was dropped on the first mountain stage in the Massif Central,” Nibali said hitting back.
“I want to point that I had a great first part of the season. I won in Oman in February, I rode strongly in March at Tirreno-Adriatico and I won the Giro d’Italia. I’ve always been very focused and I only had one day off in the winter so that I’d be on form for 2016.
“As I said, I’m only human, I’m not a robot. I always try my best and I tried hard to win a stage but you’ve got to know how to listen to your body and measure your effort, especially considering the goals ahead. When my legs told me I wouldn’t be a GC contender, I worked for the good of the team, which is the right thing to do. The guys at Astana have given their all for me on many occasions, so it was good to give something back.”
In praise of Froome and Team Sky
Nibali won the Tour de France in 2014 and is expected to target the race in 2017 as team leader of the new Bahrain-Merida team. This year he could only watch as Chris Froome and Team Sky again dominated the Tour de France but he praised them on their success.
“I’m happy with how I performed, I’m not envious of Team Sky’s success or even Froome’s victory. I’ll never be like them but that’s okay. They always peak for the Tour and so it’s not easy to beat such a strong and important team, who invest a lot in everything they do. There’s nothing I can say against their victory, they deserved it.”
Nibali is more optimistic about his chances in Rio. Nibali is a Grand Tour winner but also knows how to win tough one-day races as he proved by dominating last year’s Il Lombardia. He also finished fourth in the hilly World Road Race Championships in Florence in 2013, despite a late crash.
“It won’t be easy to win but with the tough route and the national team we have, we can do well,” he suggested.
“Considering my age, its probably my last ever Olympics and I like the special atmosphere of the Olympics even if we wont be there that long. It’s fascinating to eat in the Olympic village and make friends with athletes from other sports and other countries.
“The whole Italian team is motivated for Rio. We’ve collected a few placings out of the medal recently but we’ve got a good chance this time. Let's hope we don’t get overly criticised if we don’t win a medal.”