Vincenzo Nibali is fighting to save his Tour de France after a disappointing first nine stage in the Netherlands, Belgium and northern France but his first thoughts and first words during his rest day press conference were for Ivan Basso, who earlier revealed he has been diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Nibali appeared stunned to have heard that his fellow Italian and former teammate was heading home to Italy after checks had confirmed a precocious diagnosis of testicular cancer.
“It’s a real shock to hear the news. Ivan is a friend. I hope I can speak to him soon and I hope that his problem is not as serious as it seems at the moment,” Nibali said.
When the Tour de France resumes on Tuesday and heads into the Pyrenees, Nibali will ride with handicap of 2:22 on Chris Froome (Team Sky) weighing on his mind.
The 2014 Tour de France went perfectly for the shark from Sicily, and Nibali led the race form early on, as his rivals fell away due to crashes, misfortune and fatigue. This year things are more difficult and he has lost various amounts of time on each key stage contested so far. Nibali is still considered one of the five main contenders for overall victory but he is now ranked number five, behind Froome, Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). He risks falling out of contention if he loses further time in the Pyrenees.
The Italian press has discussed and dissected Nibali’s woes and time losses, suggested that the lack of cohesion in the Astana team is a major factor in his poor performance. It has even been suggested that Nibali is close to throwing in the towel and giving up on overall success in this year’s Tour de France.
He flatly denied that.
“It’s not true,” he said defiantly. “I don’t know what has been reported in the Italian media about my race so far. I feel good but no two years are the same in cycling. The only thing I can do is stay relaxed, focused and keep pedalling. It’s true I had a bad day on the Mur de Bretagne finish but it was a tough finish and what happened to me is the same that happened to Contador on the Mur de Huy finish.”
“In truth the stage to Zeeland was the most difficult for me, it was tough to accept that I’d lost a chunk of time. But at the Tour de France you’ve got to take things day by day and fight back. I’ve got to be good at seizing the moment.”
Rest day mind games
The series of rest day press conferences at the Tour de France always spark lots of speculation, debate and conjecture about riders’ form and what they need to do to win the Tour de France. Riders also take advantage of the media to play mind games with their rivals.
Nibali was provoked by a journalist revealing that Chris Froome had said in his morning press conference that he fears Quintana more than Nibali in the mountain stages. Nibali took the provocation on the chin like an experienced boxer but quickly jabbed back with a show of pride.
“Perhaps that’s because I’m further down in the GC,” he said. “The truth is that it’s been a hard first week full of stress and nervous racing. But it’s also true that we haven’t seen the real mountains yet. From tomorrow (Tuesday) we’ll know a lot more. At the moment we know that Chris is riding well. I just hope that my coach Paolo Slongo is right; he reckons he could fade in the Alps…”
Nibali also hit back when asked about his big-four rivals in this year’s Tour.
“Quintana has been hiding and I think that’s a sign he’s on form. Froome is definitely on better form but Nairo still got to show what he is capable of...”
“Alberto (Contador) has raced in parallel with Quintana and we’ve also got to discover what he can do this year, while van Garderen has got to show his worth on the real climbs.”
The Pyrenees are clearly visible from Pau and Nibali knows he will have to at least try to pull back time in the next three days if he wants to have chance to fight for a podium place in the Alps. However he kept his cards and his hopes close to his chest.
“I want to see if the real Nibali is around. More than anything, I want some answers for myself. I still haven’t felt as good as I did last year, I hope it happens starting from tomorrow (Tuesday). Will I attack? We’ll see…. If there’s a chance, why not?”