Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) featured prominently on the short climb at the end of stage three of the Vuelta a España in Málaga and the Sicilian was pleased with his display afterwards. He crossed the line in 4th place, 15 seconds down on stage winner Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) but ahead of a number of his rivals for overall victory.
“I’m happy with how I went, because I’m not exactly suited to explosive finishes like this one,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport . The sharp 1.8km climb of Castillo de Gibralfaro was similar to Amstel Gold Race’s Cauberg and was widely expected to suit Gilbert, but Nibali had also given notice of his capabilities on a short finishing climb in winning the Trofeo Melinda recently.
Nibali’s acceleration on the early slopes of the final climb gave him an opportunity to assess the form of some of his rivals for the red jersey in Madrid and one rider in particular stood out for him. “I saw a good Denis Menchov right behind me,” he explained. “He’ll be a big rival.”
Other riders who Nibali sees as potential candidates for overall victory include Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia), Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), who was a close second on the stage. “Schleck hasn’t raced much so he’s fresh and has great motivation, while Filippo Pozzato has been speaking well of Rodriguez,” he warned.
With a fine third place overall at the Giro d’Italia in May already in the bank, Nibali could be forgiven for feeling that he has already had a successful season but instead he is very much focused on a Vuelta that he sees as “the first great opportunity” of his career.
After riding in defence of Ivan Basso at his home tour, Nibali holds the reins of the Liquigas team for the Vuelta and he is determined to make the most of it. “In the end it’s not so much the winning that’s important as showing that I am a rider who can fight to the end for this kind of objective,” he said, hinting that the race for the leadership of the Liguigas team at the 2011 Giro may already have begun.
Another team looking for a leader is the Italian squad for the world championships and Nibali is confident that his Vuelta form can land him a place on the plane to Australia, even if the course is not ideally suited to him.
“I’d like to be there, because it would my first time as a pro,” Nibali said. “It’s more suited to people like Pozzato than it is to me, but I’d like to ride in support and maybe have a role in the finale.”
“But that’s another story. Until Madrid, I only want to concentrate on the Vuelta.”