After illness forced to miss his season opener at the Vuelta a San Juan, Vincenzo Nibali finally got his first chance to test himself on the climbs during stage 2 of the Tour of Oman. It went comparatively well for the Italian with a modest but solid 13th place behind winner Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin) in Al Bustan.
Nibali survived during a rapid-fire ascent of the Al Jissah climb to come to the line in the small group that fought for victory. With the likes of Greg Van Avermaet and Haas in the bunch, there was no option but to sit in and bank the time for later in the race.
"The first part of the stage was normal and then when we went into the last part it was very fast," Nibali told Cyclingnews at the finish in a much-improved English.
"BMC pulled on the climb and then with four kilometres to the KOM, Astana attacked with Lutsenko and Lopez. For me, it was very good. I had Gorka Izagirre with me and there was nothing to do but wait for the sprint, which was no good for me."
Nibali had been set to start his year in Argentina but picked up gastroenteritis on the first day of the race in San Juan and had to go home without turning a pedal. The Dubai Tour was added to his calendar to give him a few extra racing miles before travelling to Oman, where he hopes to hone his shape before making his Italian racing debut next month.
"In San Juan, I had problems with my stomach and a fever, and after I went to Dubai Tour so that I could find my racing rhythm. I worked for my teammates and here I think I can and I hope to find good condition for the next race, Tirreno-Adriatico," he said.
The big goals might be a few weeks away, but Nibali has hopes of a strong finish in Oman.
There are a couple of rolling stages to come before the traditional Green Mountain summit finish on Saturday. Nibali has won there twice before, the last time coming in 2015 when he went on to take the overall victory. Just 10 seconds down on the race leader Haas, there is every opportunity for Nibali to add another Oman title to his palmares, but so soon into his season, he's cautious about making any bold predictions.
"I think that Green Mountain will be a good stage for me and I will try and see how my condition is. Today the sensations were very good in a high-paced finish and we did some good work," said Nibali. "I am hoping for a good result in the GC, but this is the first race for me with climbing."