The Italian was lined up to sign for the British team to be their Grand Tours leader in their inaugural year. As well as meeting with a Team Sky intermediary, Nibali also met with Team Sky’s management with a multi-year contract put in front of him.
Speaking exclusively to Cyclingnews at the Tour de San Luis, Nibali said: “I was very close to joining Sky, yes that’s true. I met with Max Sciandri to discuss a move and we met a few times. Then I had a meeting with the Team Sky management during the year. In the end I couldn’t move because of the contract with Liquigas. Sky offered me a contract though and I was very close to signing but couldn’t break the Liquigas contract.”
“Do I wish I’d signed? It was new team and I was looking forward to being part of a big international team. Yes, I wish I’d been able to ride for them then.”
Nibali eventually left Liquigas this winter, signing for Astana, where he will lead their charge at the Giro d’Italia this May. With Alberto Contador heading to the Tour in July many expect Nibali and Bradley Wiggins – the rider who was signed after the Italian's Team Sky deal fell through – to fight it out for the maglia rosa.
The Giro d'Italia organisers have attempted to create a finely balanced route for 2013, one that offers both the climbers and time trialists equal opportunities to shine. With 74.9 kilometres of time trialing, Wiggins can expect to severely dent Nibali’s chances. The Italian lost roughly six minutes in last year’s Tour de France to Wiggins against the clock.
However the Italian believes that the style of climbs in the Giro d'Italia will suit his characteristics better and the fact that there’s no final time trial offers the climbers of Nibali’s ilk further encouragement.
“The climbs are very difficult and different to the ones in the Tour. Wiggins is certainly a very good rider and there’s a long time trial for him but the race is wide open. I’m going to give my best and you have to remember that Wiggins won’t have the same team as he had at the Tour last year. Sky is a great team but they can’t send the same team to the Giro and to the Tour, so they have to decide where they split their strengths,” he told Cyclingnews.
“I don’t know who they’ll send to the Giro but I read the papers and from what I can see Wiggins will do ride the Giro, and Froome will ride the Tour. Wiggins is a big competitor with a lot of character but the road will decide.”
The time bonuses on offer are another reason for Nibali to be cheerful.
"They could be really important," he said. "For example Cunego won a Giro thanks to time bonuses in 2004. This year the course doesn’t have a final time trial. It would be better for Wiggins if there was final time trial but the final week suits the climbers better.”
The Giro isn’t Nibali’s only target in 2013. The Italian differs from a number of current grand tour riders in that he races throughout the season and at a consistent level – from attacking at Milano-Sanremo to aggressive riding at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardy – the 28-year-old selects a number of targets but without being fixated on one goal.
“In the last few years I’ve raced from the start of the season right up until the end. I was second at Liege last year, only just missing out and I was third at the Tour. I don’t like to start a season with just one target and there are so many big races in the calendar. The most important race is of course the Tour but it’s not the only important one.”
“When I was growing up I was a big Moser fan. I loved how he’d work towards finding new technologies. My father had a VHS of his wins and I’d watch that all the time and feel inspired. I like to be like him because he’d try and look for new technologies as a rider and that’s something I’m interested in. But Moser didn’t just target one race, like the Tour, and I’m like that too.”
Currently finding form in Argentina at San Luis, Nibali appears to be settling in nicely with his new team. Each evening after dinner he leads his teammates down into the lobby for a quick coffee. The team has certainly thrown their weight behind him too. Earlier this month Astana and Specialized began a special project to work on his time trial position. Nibali is also now able to pick his own race programme. This and a significant pay increase, appear to have been a major incentive in his decision to move to Astana.
“It’s been a really nice experience so far. The team is trying to look to the future and we’re doing the best that we can. I feel good, and I’m the leader here. I’ve come because I wanted to try a new experience in an international team. I spent a lot of years at Liquigas but I wanted a change, a different environment, and here I’m the only leader and that’s something that’s really good for me,” he told Cyclingnews.
“It was a big step, I know that, but I’m not sentimental about the past and I don’t miss the old squad. And while it’s an international team here there are also a good number of Italians here as well.”
“For an Italian rider it’s important that I do the biggest Italian race. Astana were really interested in me doing the Giro as well. Last year, at Liquigas, it would have been nice if I’d had the chance to decide for myself if I was going to do the Giro or not, especially after seeing the results. Liquigas chose a different programme for me though.”