The 33-year-old Sicilian is the only Italian contender for overall victory this year and the tifosi were already trying to sneak into the pre-race press conference, take a selfie with Nibali and wish him all the best for the three weeks of racing.
Nibali smiled for the cameras and even posed with Tom Dumoulin, perhaps his biggest rival this year, as they crossed paths at the race headquarters outside of Bologna. He is chasing third maglia rosa after victories in 2013 and 2016 but seemed able to shoulder the hopes of a nation. Nibali has apparently agreed on terms with Trek-Segafredo for 2020 but is keen to honour his contract with Bahrain-Merida and give Italy another Giro d'Italia victory.
"The Giro was the first biggest stage race that I took on and it's been the race that I have dreamed about since I was a kid. I've won it twice, and so I've accomplished that dream. All that brings out a lot of emotions and I want to feel that emotion of winning again," he said.
Nibali has not won a race since his surprise victory at Milan-San Remo in 2018. A spectator brought him down on the climb to L'Alpe d'Huez at the Tour de France, leaving him with a fractured vertebra but he has made a full recovery and was on form at the recent Tour of the Alps after a key altitude training camp. He attacked day after day but was unable to get the better of Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov during the five days of racing.
"Winning is the nicest thing and is what you always try to do. I miss that feeling and went close recently but there's nothing more I could have done to make it happen," he said.
"I don't feel under pressure. I know what achieved over the years. Last year was very difficult with the crash and I started off the season far more gradually, with the Giro as my first goal before riding the Tour de France but not for the overall classification. We've prepared well, I'd say perfectly, we've selected a good team for the Giro too."
One of many contenders
Nibali has started previous editions of the Giro d'Italia as the number one favourite. He accepts he is one of a number of contenders this year.
"I'm one of the riders in a small group who's going for the overall classification as best as possible. It's difficult to give out stars and make a ranking of the contenders because there are a lot of riders we have to watch. They include Dumoulin, Roglic, Landa and Yates. I think they're my biggest rivals in this Giro d'Italia. Having a lot of rivals will make it a harder race but will make it more exciting for everyone watching."
Nibali is the most experienced of all the big-name contenders but he is also the oldest. He sees that as an advantage during three weeks of unpredictable racing.
"My age is what it is but it's not a limitation," h argued. "Valverde has always put up a fight and I think I'm still competitive. In 2017 I was third but was only 40 seconds away from victory. I then finished second in the Vuelta a Espana. Last year I focused on the Tour de France. It went wrong but that as not my fault."
This year's Giro d'Italia is a very difficult race because we start off with a bang with the time trial, where there will be some time gaps. There are a number of stages early on without big climbs but they're hard. Maybe it'll be cold and wet as in the last few days. There could echelons and attacks and then snow in the high mountains. You have to be ready for anything at the Giro. I feel ready."