Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) has warned that the wind atop Mount Etna could wreak havoc on the 2011 Giro d’Italia when the race visits Sicily. The Vuelta a España winner returned to the island this week to reconnoitre the stage from his birthplace Messina to the summit of the volcano.
“I had a taste of what we might meet the day of the stage,” Nibali told Gazzetta del Sud afterwards. “When I started off it was warm, but as I climbed the temperature dropped and by the time I got to the summit it was only 5 degrees Celsius.
“But what struck me most and caused me most problems was the wind: it’s crazy, both in terms of the force of the gusts and the cold. We’ll see how the weather is in May, but we’ll have to take account of it.”
Nibali is hugely motivated at the prospect of racing on home roads in a Giro where he will start as one of the favourites for overall victory, but for now he is simply pleased to have had the opportunity to tackle a climb he hadn’t faced since he was a child.
“It was just a gentle spin, a first approach to discover both sides of Mount Etna, seeing as I had only been up there once before as boy,” Nibali said.
On that occasion, the ten-year-old Nibali needed some assistance from his mother’s car to conquer the summit but he is planning to train again on the climb before May 15: “I’ll certainly have the chance to come back and study it in depth and then prepare this stage as best as possible.”
“Every time that you climb this volcano it’s a special experience,” Nibali continued. “To arrive at the summit is a most beautiful feeling, pedalling through the snow and at the same time being able to look down towards the sea. It’s a beautiful, unique landscape and it’s ours here in Sicily.”
The last time the Giro visited Sicily was in 2008, but the closest Nibali came to glory during the three days on the island was 4th place in the opening team time trial in Palermo and 8th behind Riccardo Riccò the next day in Agrigento. 2011 sees just one stage on the island, but it appears to be well-suited to Nibali’s characteristics.
“It’s a difficult stage as we have to climb Etna twice, from Nicolosi and from Belpasso, interspersed with a section in the valley between Taormina and Fiumefreddo,” he explained. “It needs to be seen how the stage will be raced on the day, at what rhythm, how nervous the riders are and what weather we’ll find on the day.”
Regardless of the outcome atop the mighty volcano, however, Nibali will already have been feted at the start of the stage, as the “Shark of the Strait” returns to his hometown.
“It will be a continuous party for the duration of the stage, with huge crowds on the roadsides cheering us on,” he said. “The start from Messina will be truly special for me; a singular emotion on a day that I hope will be unforgettable.”