Sagan risked upsetting Nibali’s hopes of Tirreno victory when he chased him down and took victory himself on Saturday’s stiff uphill finish in Chieti, but the Slovak youngster made amends with a sterling shift in the service of Nibali in the finale at Offida on Monday.
Little wonder, then, that Nibali jokingly named Sagan as his most dangerous adversary on the long road to San Remo on Saturday. La Classicissima has increasingly smiled on the fast men in recent seasons, but Nibali is hopeful that aggressive riding over the capi might take its toll on the pure sprinters.
“Peter and I are a great pairing,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport. “He will play his cards in the sprint and he will have to be very good to beat Cavendish. I will have to try something beforehand. We’ll need to make the race as hard as possible, but I’m convinced that we’ll find allies to do this. Certainly I know that I’ll have to invent something to win it, but difficult challenges motivate me.”
In any case, when Saturday comes, Nibali is confident that he will not be suffering from any lingering effects of his efforts at Tirreno-Adriatico.
“Absolutely not, I’m coming out of this race only with benefits,” he said. “The most important thing is that my morale is sky high. A day of rest and then I’ll be better than before.”
While Nibali’s 2010 Vuelta a España victory remains the headline achievement on his professional resume, he admitted that beating such a strong field on home roads added considerable emotional value to his Tirreno-Adriatico triumph.
“On paper, the Vuelta is a step above. But we’re almost on the same level in terms of the quality of race and of emotion, given that it’s my first big win in Italy.”
It remains to be seen which grand tours Nibali will ride in 2012. At the beginning of the season, it seemed likely that he would skip the Giro d’Italia in order to focus his energies on the Tour de France, but given his current form, his Liquigas-Cannondale team may well be tempted to slot him into the Giro line-up alongside Ivan Basso.
A formal decision is due to be made after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, although Gazzetta reports that Nibali will go to a training camp at altitude in Teide with the Liquigas Giro team from March 25 to April 11.
“At the moment the Tour is in my plans, but I already changed my programme two years ago [when he was a late addition to the 2010 Giro team to replace Franco Pellizzotti – ed.] and it seems to me that the results proved it was right,” Nibali said. “We’ll assess it after Liège on April 22.”
Nibali’s contract with Liquigas-Cannondale expires at the end of 2012 and Astana is already understood to have tabled a sizeable offer to secure his services for next season. Following his win at Tirreno-Adriatico, however, Nibali was keen to stress that his preference would be to remain at Liquigas.
“I would like to stay, this is my team. This is my home and they mightn’t care for me as well anywhere else. We’ve come a lot closer [to an agreement] about renewing the contract.”