Vincenzo Nibali to start 2018 season at Tour of Oman after missing Vuelta a San Juan

Sicilian to return from Argentina to Europe on Wednesday

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) will begin his 2018 season at the Tour of Oman next month after he was forced to withdraw from the Vuelta a San Juan ahead of Sunday's opening stage due to a bout of illness.

Nibali is set to travel back to Europe on Wednesday and, despite initial reports suggesting that he might ride the Dubai Tour, his Bahrain-Merida team said that the Sicilian will not alter his racing schedule to compensate for the loss of racing days in Argentina.

Nibali will thus make his first competitive outing of the 2018 season at the Tour of Oman, which takes place from February 13-18. The remainder of his spring programme is yet to be finalised, with Nibali still to decide between Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice as he builds towards a tilt at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Nibali has also floated the prospect of riding the Tour of Flanders in 2018, though his participation is yet to be confirmed.

"We'll try to make up for it in the races to come, but my programme won't change. My next race will be the Tour of Oman," Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport in a video interview on Monday.

Nibali was one of a number of riders at the Vuelta a San Juan to be afflicted by gastroenteritis, and he explained that the timing of the illness had left him with no choice but to withdraw ahead of the opening stage.

"These are things that can happen, I picked up this virus that's been going around," Nibali said. "Yesterday [Sunday], I started feeling cramps, nausea and a fever, and there was nothing I could do. It could have happened at home just as easily as it happened here.

"Today, I'm feeling a bit better. I managed to eat something last night. It's something that lasts for around a day, so it’s just a shame that it struck right on the day of the opening stage. If it had come a few hours earlier I might have been able to start."

Nibali has made the Tour de France and the World Championships in Innsbruck the chief objectives of his 2018 season, and has already confirmed that he will not ride the Giro d’Italia in May. He is expected to line out at the Vuelta a España, albeit with the aim of building towards the Worlds rather than targeting final overall victory.

The opening stage of the Vuelta a San Juan was claimed by Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) in a bunch sprint in Pocito on Sunday. The race continues with a 149.9km leg to Peri Lago Punta Negra on Monday.

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