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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas - Cannondale)
Ardennes Classics the early aim for Sicilian
Without a victory since he sealed the Vuelta a España in September 2010, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) is aware that he has an early opportunity to get back in the winning habit on stage five of the Tour of Oman on the slopes of Jabal Al Akhdhar.
In spite of his season-long consistency in 2011, Nibali remarkably failed to notch up a win over the course of the campaign. While the Sicilian is undoubtedly keen to put that statistic to rights as soon as possible, he is also mindful that there are greater prizes on offer later in the spring, including the Ardennes Classics.
"In one way, it would be a bit of a liberation to get a win, but I know that there are bigger races coming and I need to do well there too," Nibali told Cyclingnews in Bidbid on Thursday. "It's very important to try and do well here because when I get back to Italy, the big races like Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo won't be long in coming. I do want to get a good classification here, but at the same time I don't want to go mad chasing the win."
Nibali began 2012 with a solid showing at the Tour de San Luis in January, but he recognises that the ascent of the "Green Mountain" in Oman on Saturday is an opportunity both to break the deadlock and to gauge his early condition. He fired an early warning shot by going off the front of the bunch in the testing finale of stage four.
"That summit finish will be a good test, so we'll get an idea of things there," he said. "In any case, the season has started well and we're hoping we can pick up something along the way."
The first objective of Nibali's spring campaign is Tirreno-Adriatico in March. While the route, which includes a tough summit finish to Prati di Tivo in Abruzzo, should ensure Nibali is in contention, he admitted that he often struggles to be at his best in central Italy in March.
"At Tirreno I look to do well every year, but it's always hard, partly because at the early in the season it's quite cold there and I go better when it's hot," he said.
The Race Between the Two Seas provides the prelude to Milan-San Remo, where Nibali was part of the winning break twelve months ago after forcing the pace on the Poggio. Given that a crash eliminated a number of the sprinters early on in 2011, however, Nibali is aware that it was a rather atypical edition of La Primavera.
"Two years ago, I tried to attack as well, but without success," he said. "Milan-San Remo is a very hard race, and that's partly because the route itself isn't especially difficult. With the exception of last year, it's ended up in a bunch sprint the last few years."
More suited to Nibali's talents are the Ardennes Classics, and he hinted that he will be aiming to arrive at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in a more advanced state of form than last season, when he finished 8th.
"It's always been a bit of an objective, and in the last two years I've done the Classics and then gone to the Giro," he said. "This year, perhaps I'll go to the Classics with a bit more ambition and then I'll see whether I'll do the Giro or the Tour."
With Ivan Basso pencilled in to lead Liquigas-Cannondale at the Giro d'Italia, Nibali acknowledged that he is unlikely to ride the corsa rosa this season, even if he stressed that a final call will not be made until the end of April.
"I'll decide afterwards, but there's definitely a bigger chance that I'll go to the Tour de France," he said.
The recent CAS decision to sanction Alberto Contador for his positive test for clenbuterol in 2010 saw him stripped of his Giro d'Italia title of last year, an action which will see Nibali upgraded to second in the record books. The Sicilian admitted that he was nonplussed by the news.
"It's a strange thing, because like I said before, Contador rode the Giro d'Italia and did all the tests and everything was perfectly regular. Now they've disqualified him and given me second place but in reality it doesn't change anything," he said.
"He certainly altered the race by being there, but there isn't much else to say beyond that the sporting justice took too long to deliver a verdict."