Vincenzo Nibali gave evidence to French police for three hours on Saturday as investigations continued into the cause of and responsibility for his Tour de France crash.
Nibali's chances of winning the Tour ended on the slopes of L’Alpe d’Huez on stage 12 when a spectator's camera strap seemingly caught his handlebars, causing him to crash on his back.
Nibali got up to finish the stage but was later diagnosed with a fractured vertebra. He underwent vertebroplasty surgery to stabilise the fracture and ease the pain but, despite riding the Vuelta a España, he was unable to return to his best in time for the UCI Road World Championships. He ended his 2018 season with second place behind Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) at Il Lombardia.
Nibali travelled to Modane, just over the border from Italy, with his lawyer to Fausto Malucchi to give evidence to French police on Saturday morning. He had already made a formal complaint to police after the incident. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Nibali was questioned by three French police officers for three hours with the help of an interpreter.
La Gazzetta dello Sport suggests that the investigation could be close to a conclusion thanks to the gathering of a significant amount of photographic and video evidence, along with witness statements. It may also be possible to identify the road-side spectator who sparked the crash.
Nibali’s lawyer apparently highlighted the difference in safety measures used on the Giro d’Italia stage on Monte Zoncolan and on the L’Alpe d’Huez at the Tour de France.
A human chain of volunteers held back the crowds and keep the road clear during the final kilometres of the Zoncolan climb, while a lack of barriers and police action meant there was little control of a large and perhaps alcohol-fuelled group of fans where Nibali went down on the road up L’Alpe d’Huez.
Both Nibali and his Bahrain-Merida team believe that Tour de France organiser ASO could ultimately be held responsible for the damage caused by the incident, while ASO could argue that it was caused by the reckless behaviour of the road-side fans. Nibali was in contention to win the Tour de France, with Bahrain-Merida suggesting that 60 to 70 per cent of the team’s brand visibility would occur during a successful tour de France.
"We were impressed with how accurately and in how much detail the investigation is being done," Malucchi told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Nibali will celebrate his 34th birthday on Wednesday and will soon begin training for the 2019 season. He told Cyclingnews during the recent Saitama Tour de France criterium in Japan that he could be tempted to ride both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France but it seems he is most likely to return to his home Grand Tour in 2019, with new signing Rohan Dennis targeting the Tour de France.
Bahrain-Merida will confirm their 2019 goals and team leaders at a December training camp in Hvar, Croatia in mid-December.