Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) has raced the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in the same year on two previous occasions, but his coach Paolo Slongo maintains that neither instance provides any real pointers as to his chances of pulling off the double in 2019.
"This is the first time that we’re really aiming to do well in GC in both the Giro and the Tour, and the information from those precedents isn’t of much use," Slongo told Cyclingnews.
"The data from more recent years is of more interest. We’ve done the Tour and Vuelta – which is a bit similar – so we have some data from that. But even in those years, Vincenzo had started racing in January. In 2019, we’re starting later and hoping to have more energy for the Grand Tours, so it’s different."
The 23-year-old Nibali who placed 11th at the 2008 Giro and 20th at his debut Tour is, in other words, a very different athlete from the veteran who, over a decade on, will make a concerted attempt to win both races next year.
In purely physical terms, the Nibali of 2016 was rather more similar to the current vintage, but his Giro and Tour were raced in another context. After winning the Giro with a dramatic fightback in the Alps, Nibali used the Tour simply as preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics road race that followed.
"2016 was different because it was the year of the Olympics and we were at Astana," Slongo said. "Vincenzo had won the Giro and the team wanted to focus on Fabio Aru at the Tour. Vincenzo was able to go there and give him a hand, but also build for the Olympics. So the approach was different then."
Nibali’s double attempt of 2019 seems to be born at least in part of compromise between the rider’s preference for the Giro and the team’s desire to perform at the Tour, though Slongo maintains that other circumstances contributed to the decision. While the 2014 Tour might represent Nibali’s finest performance over three weeks, for instance, Slongo does not believe he had the capacity to take on two Grand Tours in succession at that point in his career.
"Vincenzo is 34 years old now, and he’s reached a very high level of physical maturity. The older you get, the higher the workload you can sustain. So we said, ‘Why not try to do the double?’
"Pantani was the last rider to do it, and that was a completely different cycling. Froome and the others haven’t done it, so we know it won’t be easy. But for a rider like Nibali, it’s stimulating to have this as a challenge. We’ve never done it before, but we’ve talked about it a lot, so why not try?"
In 2018, both Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin made concerted attempts at the Giro-Tour double and while neither man would join Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Roche, Indurain and Pantani in the record books, they gave their contemporaries ample food for thought. Froome won the Giro and placed third at the Tour, while – perhaps more pertinently – Dumoulin was a model of consistency en route to second place overall in each race.
"We’ve watched the others, of course, but it’s not that we’ve been inspired by them," Slongo insisted.
The shift in dates for football’s World Cup meant that there was a longer gap between the Giro and Tour in 2018 – six weeks rather than the usual five – but Slongo’s own preference is for a shorter lay-off break between the two races in any case.
"To try to do the famous double, I’ve always felt that the races need to be designed in a certain way because you only have five weeks between the Giro and the Tour," Slongo said. "This year, the two things could fall together quite well. The Giro is quite tough but the Tour isn’t very hard in the first week. You still have to have decent condition at the start of the Tour, but you don’t need to be at your sharpest because there isn’t a summit finish in the opening four or five stages, where you might risk losing a big chunk of time to the others."
In seven of the past 10 seasons, Nibali has begun his season in Argentina in January, but 2019 will see him make his latest start to a campaign since 2011. After a team training camp in Cambrils, Spain in January and an altitude camp at Mount Teide in February, Nibali will pin on a number for the first time at the UAE Tour (February 25-March 2), before making his European debut at Strade Bianche a week later and then riding Tirreno-Adratico and Milan-San Remo.
"There’ll be a little break from racing after that. There’s another block of altitude training before the Tour of the Alps and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, then the Giro d’Italia," said Slongo.
Despite the planned double attempt, Nibali’s condition on the start line in Bologna on May 11 ought not to be any different to any of his previous tilts at the Giro. Thoughts of the Tour, Slongo insisted, must wait until after the Giro. Unlike Contador, who won the Route du Sud in 2015, Nibali will not race between the Giro and Tour, save for the Italian national championships road race a week before the Grand Départ.
"If we try to over-calculate things, we risk losing both the Giro and the Tour. The Giro is first and we want to do it well," Slongo said.
"After the Giro, we have a week or 10 days where Vincenzo will look to recover a bit. Then there’ll be a week where we will work at home before we do a block of 12 or 14 days at altitude. Up there, based on how he’s feeling, we’ll either maintain or accelerate the training, and do a lot of work behind the scooter. In broad brushstrokes, that’s how I see it."