Astana's Vincenzo Nibali is starting his season this week at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina. The Italian played modest and cited little ambition for the early-season stage race but said he is looking forward to testing his legs on the upcoming climbs to see where his condition is after the off-season.
Nibali sat down with the press at his team's hotel in San Luis for a roundtable interview in which he answered questions about his two targeted events in 2016: the Giro d'Italia and the Rio Olympics. He also spoke about the possibility of racing in the Tour de France.
All-in for the Giro d’Italia
Question: Will you do the Giro d’Italia?
Nibali: Yes, that was my decision. I was absent from the Giro for about two years, so I’m happy to return this year.
Question: After Tour de San Luis, what races will you do to prepare for the Giro d’Italia?
Nibali: Liege-Bastogne-Liege because it’s a race that I always do, I like it and I will be able to test my fitness for the Giro.
Question: What are your other major season goals?
Nibali: It’s clear that the Giro is an important goal for me. And I cannot hide that the Olympics are something particular for me because they come every four years and it is a hard circuit that suits my characteristics.
Question: Some riders have a fixation on one Grand Tour, but you seem to mix up your ambitions, why?
Nibali: Every season I try to change my goal. I try not to have standard goals every season. Every year I do my race schedule and my goals a little bit different and I set my goals and change them in order to give myself extra motivation.
For me the Giro, Tour and Vuelta, and the Classics... they are the same, I like them all, but every year I look for motivation also through the people that I work with, and my teammates can be motivation for me at the races.
Question: When you dream about the Tour de France is it the same as when you dream about the Giro d’Italia?
Nibali: They're the same, but for me, when I race the Giro, there are different values. I race around my people and you feel a little bit more pressure because of that. In my career, I feel more pressure when I race in Italy.
Question: At the Vuelta a Espana last year there were two new riders doing well; Esteban Chaves and Tom Dumoulin, this year they will do the Giro, too. What do you think about them?
Nibali: Both riders did very well but it’s also about continuity, which gives you an idea of the value of the riders. We discovered at the Vuelta last year with Dumoulin, he had already done well at the Tour until he crashed. Dumoulin has a big engine and can do well in the climbs that are at the Giro and the Tour. He also did very well last year. I followed him and he showed character.
Question: Can Dumoulin be your rival?
Nibali: Yes, but these are two races [Giro and Vuelta] that happen at different times of the season. The Giro can be freezing and the Vuelta is hot. We have to see how each rider reacts with different weather conditions. I personally go well in any kind of conditions, depending on my form.
Question: What are you expecting from Mikel Landa at the Giro d’Italia this year?
Nibali: Landa changed teams. Landa was with us last year and that felt good and he did very well. Now that he changed teams, something will change. It depends on if he will get used to the new team as to whether he feels good or bad.
I will be able to see him at the Giro. I’m friends with him and I think that he is one of the youngest and most promising rider from Spain.
Tour de France still an unknown
Question: Last year, Alberto Contador went for Giro and Tour, and that was a good lesson. This year are you going for the Giro and Tour?
Nibali: Right now, the Tour is not confirmed. The time will tell but for right now the main goal is the Giro.
Question: What happened in the first week of the Tour last year?
Nibali: I wasn’t going. I felt like I was blocked. We analysed it and of course in the third week I was going way, way better. The first week I felt like I was going maximum to 70 or 80 per cent and I couldn’t go any more. In the uphill finish at the Mur de Bretagne I paid for that in seconds, and normally I would be able to stay with the other guys.
It’s possible that [the crash] was a factor. I crashed earlier and it can take a few days to start feeling better from hematomas and crashes like that.
Question: You’re a rider that looks to details. Do you think that at the last Tour there were some details that weren’t working well?
Nibali: Many. For sure, [one example] I had the wrong teammates at the Tour. I was giving instructions and the [riders] didn’t listen.
Question: Will you ride the Tour de France this year to get your own personal satisfaction or to help someone else?
Nibali: It’s a possibility that I will support Fabio [Aru], but we will see how the season goes. The Olympics is my goal and I could be at the Tour de France to help Fabio.
Question: Aside from the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France, will you return to the Vuelta a Espana for revenge?
Nibali: No, it isn’t for revenge. I’ll give you an example, yesterday [Tour de San Luis stage 2], there were too crashes and many people came back hanging on the car. But, I won’t say anymore…[he laughed]
Olympic Games a priority in 2016
Question: Olympics is one of your goals. If you showed up as the Vincenzo that won the Tour de France, with that powerful jump, is that the condition you need?
Nibali: I think so [he laughed]. You need to be in a kind of condition that gives you the ability to do something like that in the last few laps of a long race. From what I saw, it’s a very demanding Olympics course. The last three laps are very hard with a climb that can be comparable to Ghisallo.
Question: Filippo Pozzato told a story about Paolo Bettini’s Olympic victory where the night before he ate McDonalds? Are you willing to eat something like that before the Olympics?
Nibali: I know that story. They told us every year and [Franco] Ballerini told us that, too. During the Olympics you have to adapt because you are in a different context from what you are used to at other bike races. We travel a lot so you have to kind of adapt and be a little more open-minded to adjust to any kind of situation.
Question: The Olympics is a unique experience, you’ve been twice before, how will this be different?
Nibali: Yes, I had the pleasure and honour to race two; in Beijing and London, in two completely different races. In Beijing, I was young and I did a lot of work in the beginning. In London, I was supporting [Luca] Paolini and [Sacha] Modolo. The feelings are different at the Olympics, they are more close to a world championship because you race with less riders, and there is the worry of an important breakaway going from the beginning, and that's where you need to pay attention.
Question: What is your contract situation like for next year, you’ve had interest from Team Sky and Lampre-Merida?
Nibali: At this moment I have some teams that have gotten close to me. My manager is taking care of all that stuff and I’m focused on training and racing. I have an important offer from Astana too must I have time to decide.
Warm-weather Argentina perfect for early-season training
Question: How are your legs for the Tour de San Luis?
Nibali: The weather in Europe was good and we did very good training camps and everyone worked well. Here in Argentina, we don’t have big ambitions. For the first two stages with the team time trial and stage 1 we did well, but until we ride the first important climb, we can’t yet understand how we feel.
I can say that I did good training but without looking for peak form for this time of the season, so we are going ahead with the training and preparation step by step.
Here we find a big difference in weather condition compared to at home. I was training at home around 9 or 10 Celsius. Here we have a max of 42 to 44 Celsius.
Question: Fernando Gaviria did a super sprint yesterday in stage 2, what did you think of that?
Nibali: I saw a video of the sprint and he was looking back while he was sprinting. There have been very few times that I have seen this kind of situation. It’s clear that Gaviria is a new kid that is coming up and he is making himself very well known.
Question: There are a lot of good riders here. What do you think of the field here in San Luis?
Nibali: I don’t care too much about who I am racing against. I’m more focussed on my condition and readiness. I know who everyone is already. When the moment comes, I just need to be ready. I can’t base it on someone else. You just need to make sure you’re ready.
Question: Tomorrow’s climb on stage 4 is a summit finish to Alto del Amago. Is there a possibility to have a show?
Nibali: For me, it’s too early to go over my limit at this time of the season. I would rather play a little be more defensive.