Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), a winner of all three Grand Tours, is the star attraction at the Vuelta a San Juan, and although he vowed to try and win the race – especially when pressed by local media – it was always with the caveat that it’s only January and that laying the foundations for the Giro d’Italia was his principal aim.
And so it proved on the race’s decisive general classification stage, which finished at almost 2600 metres atop the Alto de Colorado, as the Italian ceded just over a minute to the top few riders.
Bauke Mollema, another of the favourites for the Giro in May, finished fifth on the day to take hold of the leader’s jersey, but Nibali wasn’t in the least bit concerned by his own progress.
“I wasn’t at 100 per cent, but that’s fine – that’s normal for January,” he told Cyclingnews.
“I felt pretty good for most of the climb but with two kilometres to go I couldn’t keep the pace. The other guys, the South American guys, were stronger. But it’s ok. It wasn’t perfect but it’s what I was expecting. It’s the same as last year in San Luis – good but not good enough to win now in January.”
Mollema explained how pleased he was with the winter of training he had under his belt, while Bahrain-Merida coach Paolo Slongo suggested Nibali’s had been slightly more disrupted.
That said, he echoed his rider’s view that, considering it’s January, he’s exactly where he needs to be.
“He’s been working well at home, and with the team in Croatia, then we were at the team presentation in Bahrain where he couldn’t do a lot. Before coming here in Lugano it was really cold, and then coming here you have to switch to the heat,” said Slongo.
“For now he’s in good shape. Being back racing is good for him. If he were much further on, it wouldn’t be a good thing in terms of the Giro. I’m happy. Now we continue down our path.”