Nibali to make Tour of Flanders debut this year

'He has the green light from us' says coach Paolo Slongo

Vincenzo Nibali will ride the Tour of Flanders for the first time in his career this spring, according to a report in Sunday's edition of Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport

The Bahrain-Merida rider has toyed with the idea of racing the Ronde in the past but it has never materialised. 

Now, though, Gazzetta say that 'Operation Flanders' is underway and there are just a few logistical details to be ironed out before the participation on April 1 is made official. 

"Vincenzo has long expressed his desire to race Flanders, and we will not object to his will," Nibali's coach Paolo Slongo told the newspaper. 

"We have talked about it better in the last days, and from us there is the green light."

Nibali came close to riding the Tour of Flanders in 2014, the idea being to gain racing experience on cobblestones ahead of the cobbled stage of that year's Tour de France. His Astana team changed their minds late on but it turned out he hardly need the tune-up anyway as he went on to shine on the pavé and put considerable time into his rivals.

This year's Tour features a return to the cobbles usually seen in Paris-Roubaix, with some 21.7 kilometres of pavé across 15 sectors making stage 9 one of the most important days of the race. 

Rather than being a mere tune-up, there is interest for Nibali in what he could achieve at Flanders. Not simply a general classification rider, the Italian has two Monument victories at Il Lombardia and has finished on the podium at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Milan-San Remo. Up against highly specialised riders who live and breathe the northern Classics, he would hardly be a favourite but few would completely rule out a result. 

The Flanders debut adds to the heightened emphasis on one-day racing this year, with the World Championships to be held on a hilly course in Austria, and his return to targeting the Tour after two years at the Giro d'Italia opening up the Ardennes Classics again. 

According to Gazzetta, Nibali's entourage are working out the best way to get Nibali from Flanders to the Basque Country for the Vuelta al País Vasco, which starts the following day and is a popular fine-tuning exercise for the Ardennes favourites. 

After a false start in Argentina, where he did not start the Vuelta a San Juan due to gastroenteritis, Nibali will kick off his 2018 campaign at the Dubai Tour from February 6-10 ahead of the Tour of Oman from February 13-18. He will then ride Strade Bianche, followed by Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milan-San Remo to kick off the Classics period. 

The Cyclingnews Podcast in association with Prendas Ciclismo and Pinarello

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