Last Sunday, Vincenzo Nibali was at home in Sicily, giving his body a break after an early start into the 2010 season where he was initially scheduled to ride the Tour of California in May. But with Liquigas' Giro leader Franco Pellizotti being taken out of competition on Monday because of irregular blood profiles in his biological passport, Nibali was called into the team at the very last minute.
The 25-year-old did not have much time to prepare for the Grand Tour. A couple of road training rides and a quick test of his time trial bike was all he could manage before flying out to Amsterdam to line-up at his third Giro d'Italia. Having finished 11th at the event two years ago, Nibali said that he was conscious of his role in replacement of Pellizotti, at the side of Ivan Basso, the team's leader.
"I felt they had confidence in me being the right man to substitute Pellizotti," he when asked by Gazzetta dello Sport journalists whether he had felt honoured to recieve the call-up. "To serve the team, help Basso, take over a leading role. In a delicate moment like this one, I had to oblige to the team's decision."
Nibali did not comment on the Pellizotti, who now faces disciplinary action by the Italian cycling federation, but recalled the 2008 Giro which saw his teammate finish fourth overall and himself 11th. "That's when I learned to manage the load of pressure, the sense of responsibility and the length of the race."
Despite his late inclusion in the Liquigas roster, Nibali hasn't set himself any limitations to what he could achieve at this Giro, even without having reconnoitred any of the mountain stages.
"I did the Terminillo and the Zoncolan in the 2007 Giro, and the Plan de Corones, Gavia - albeit from the other side - and the Mortirolo in 2008," he said. "I rode up the Grappa during training. But I have a dream. Hopefully in Verona I will be able to reveal it!
"My form is good. I had an altitude training camp in April with the others. While Basso and Pellizotti built up resistance, we worked on our explosiveness. This may be of use to me here," he added, also stating that his first goal would be a top performance at the stage 1 time trial in the streets of Amsterdam on Saturday.
"It's a short and technical course, exactly how I like it. But I am here because the team needed me to contribute: I will support Ivan in his quest for the pink jersey and at the same time try to be a player myself."
Nibali further pointed at Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) as his personal favourite for the overall win, as well as Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), though "not necessarily in that order". Amongst the Italians, he views teammate Basso and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) amongst the top contenders.