Vincenzo Nibali: Dauphine is the best race to prepare for the Tour de France

Italian returning to French tune-up race after two-year absence

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) will return to the Critérium du Dauphiné after a two-year absence ready to put the final touches to his form ahead of his bid to win the 2018 Tour de France in July.

The 2014 Tour champion skipped the Giro d'Italia this year, a race he won in 2016 and finished third last year, to focus on adding another Tour title to his palmares. A win at Milan-San Remo was obviously good for morale, and since competing last at Liége-Bastogne-Liége in April, the 33-year-old Italian has been building toward the Tour, most recently with an altitude training camp on Mount Teide.

"I have spent the last two weeks at the Teide volcano to lay the groundwork of my mountain training for the Tour de France," Nibali told Dauphiné organisers last week.

"I am heading to Italy before returning, with pleasure, to the Dauphiné," he said. "I am convinced that the Dauphiné is the race best suited to gradually get ready for the Tour de France, which I have made my main objective this year. I especially remember that it is always a difficult race with a lot of mountains and very good riders."

Nibali's main competition in the mountains will be Frenchman Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Irishman Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), as many Tour contenders have opted for the Tour de Suisse, which starts June 9 and finishes closer to the Tour de France start on July 7.

Nibali's best result in Dauphiné was seventh in 2014, the year he won the Tour, and he's hoping to replicate that July form again this year. He's never won a stage in his five appearances at Dauphiné, but he briefly led the race in 2015 before Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) took the jersey.

He said last week that he hopes to perform well in the race, but he reiterated that his main goal is to be at the top of his game in July.

"I am coming to ride a good race, but to win it will be very hard," he said. "I would like to get a good result on a few of the stages, but my main objective is to prepare for the Tour."

The Dauphiné not only will provide the opportunity to prepare his form, but Nibali and the rest will also get a look at some of the terrain the Tour de France contenders will face in July.

The Dauphiné's 35km team time trial on June 6 is the same length the teams will tackle during stage 3 of the Tour, while the penultimate stage on June 9 is a near carbon copy of stage 11 at the Tour. The peloton will race over the exact same 108km from Albertville to La Rosière. The route features two hors categorie climbs and one category 2 climb before the final ascent to the ski station of La Rosière. The short but potentially explosive mountain stage could be one of the key days of the Tour.

"It is very important," Nibali replied when asked how important this reconnaissance was ahead of the Tour in July. "In today's cycling, we don't overlook anything when preparing for a race as prestigious as the Tour de France. In April, I rode the Roubaix stage. To see it and know it provides a certain advantage."

The 2018 Critérium du Dauphiné begins Sunday, June 3, with a 6.6km prologue time trial in Valence. The eight-day WorldTour race concludes Sunday, June 10, with a 136km stage from Moûtiers to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc.

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