Tirreno-Adriatico: Nibali plays down role of favourite

Italian talks about his future and confirms he will skip Milan-San Remo

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is arguably the favourite for this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico but with the Italian also targeting this year’s Giro d’Italia and in the final year of his Astana contract, the Sicilian is always asked about a wide range of subjects when he faces the media.

On the eve of the opening 22km team time trial in Lido di Camaiore, Nibali was cautious about his chances in the pre-race press conference and tried to play down expectation that he can win for a third time after victories in 2012 and 2013.

“It’s true I’ve won Tirreno-Adriatico and that I feel at home on Italian roads but there are lots of other strong teams here who will be contenders and put up a fight,” he pointed out when he spoke in more details with a huddle of journalists present at the race.

“We’re all friends and we all say hello to events like the pre-race press conference but then when the flag drops the racing starts. This year Movistar have got Valverde, Katusha has Rodriguez and the route definitely suits him. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) is a new entry in the lot of contenders but I noticed at the GP Larciano at the weekend that he stayed hidden despite looking really good.”

Nibali and his Astana teammates went training on the TTT course on both Monday and Tuesday despite poor weather conditions in Tuscany. They will have the advantage of starting last in the team time trial and so will know any time gaps on their rivals. That could be the difference between winning and losing.

“It’s a fast TTT course and we’ve got a good team and we hope to do well,” he explained. “We’re all good rulers. We’ve got
Smukulis, Agnoli, Capecchi, Fuglsang, Grivko and I’m not bad either. We’ll see how things go after the TTT.”

No Milan-San Remo, a decision on his future expected in June

Nibali deftly deflected questions about the Giro d’Italia and the Rio Olympic road race, pointing out they are still a long way down the road.

“I want to think about the Giro d’Italia later,” he said. “Things can change between now and the Giro d’Italia. Winning here doesn’t mean you’re the favourite for the Giro. There’s still time to work for the Giro d’Italia.”

Nibali has ridden Milan-San Remo eight times during his career, finishing third in 2012. However the decision by race organiser RCS Sport not to include any extra climbs such as Le Manie has turned him against riding this year and probably in the future.

“We all know it doesn’t suit me. It’s suited to the sprinters and Classics rider but I’ve often ridden and tried to attack on the Poggio,” he argued.

“If (RCS Sport head of Cycling) Mauro Vegni put in the Manie back in then maybe I’ think about it. Maybe the team will decide I have to ride it and so I would but if it remains the same course, there not much point in me riding it. This year I’m also due to do a block of altitude training after Tirreno-Adriatico in preparation for the Giro d’Italia.”

Cyclingnews has reported that Nibali has been linked to a new team funded by Bahrain prince Prince Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa of the Bahrain royal family. He was asked about his future. He didn’t comment specifically on the Bahrain team but revealed he has received several offers for 2017. Two of these have reportedly come from Trek-Segafredo and Lampre-Merida, while details of the Bahrain project and the possible involvement of Bjarne Riis as possible team manager have yet to be confirmed.

Nibali seems determined to retain his close group of staff and teammates that has developed with him during his time at Liquigas and Astana.

“There are some good offers and they’re all important but for now I’ve got to focus no my racing and get some results. That’s the most important thing.” Nibali said, careful not to upset Astana and team manager Alexander Vinokourov.

“This year is an important year for the Astana team because we’ve got important sponsors like Expo. I think I’ll make a decision on my future after the Giro d’Italia. It’s not easy to choose but I’ll consider everything. Of course everybody knows that there’s a group that has formed around me and that has always worked well together.”

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