Vincenzo Nibali looks like any other European tourist as he spends time with his wife Rachele and baby daughter Emma in Dubai. He is one of the biggest names in professional cycling after winning the Tour de France, yet amongst the ostentatious wealth and consumerism of Dubai, he remains modest, friendly and amiable. He will turn 30 on Friday and is one of only six riders to have won all three Grand Tours but he remains refreshingly down to earth.
He gives the impression that his Tour de France victory was not the culmination of his career or a consequence of massive self-sacrifice. It is just the latest chapter of his life and career, naturally following on from those that saw him fall in love with cycling as a boy in Sicily and move to Tuscany as a teenager to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional.
After attending the presentation of the 2015 Dubai Tour route and confirming he will make his season debut with his Astana team in the race next February, Nibali sat down for an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews to talk about his 2014 season and his hopes for 2015.
In this first part of the two-part interview, Nibali confirms that he will focus solely on the Tour de France next season, sacrificing a chance of riding the Giro d'Italia to please his sponsors and employers at Astana. He also looks back at the emotions of winning the Tour de France and talks about his rivalry with teammate and fellow Italian Fabio Aru.
In part two of our exclusive interview, published later this week, Nibali talks about the impact of the EPO doping cases at the Astana team, gives his position on doping, team manager Alexandre Vinokourov and the MPCC. He also analyses the Astana team roster for 2015 and talks about his rivalry with Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana.
Cyclingnews: You had a long but hugely successful season. You must have needed a holiday.
Vincenzo Nibali: I really needed to get away, switch off and recharge, so it's been great to take a break, especially because last year we didn't go on holiday because Rachele was pregnant with Emma. We've had a good time in Dubai, we got away from the European winter and I feel I've recovered from the season pretty well. But now it's time to start working again and get ready for the 2015 season.
CN: Have you ridden your bike since ending the season at the Tour of Almaty on October 5?
VN: I've done a few rides but not much. I didn't bring a bike to Dubai. They've got a really good bike circuit outside the city but I wanted to switch off and be on holiday with my family. I'll start riding more now during a trip to see family and friends in Sicily and to celebrate my 30th birthday on Friday.
CN: Thirty is a significant birthday, especially for a rider; are you starting to feel old?
VN: No. I feel like a normal person who reaches an important birthday in their life. I don't feel old as a person or as a rider. I've still got a lot of desire to race, I feel as motivated and determined as I did when I was 20.
CN: Did being on holiday give you the time to reflect and fully savour your Tour de France victory?
VN: It's difficult to experience and really feel the emotions of a Grand Tour when you're still riding and racing it. You enjoy it by celebrating victory and it’s a special moment but you're so concentrated on what you're doing, that you can't take it all in. Now I've had a chance to reflect on things I've seen photos and videos of the race. There were some really special moments that still make me emotional and make the hairs on my arms stand up. The stage on the pave was incredible for example but there were so many others. The whole picture is starting to come together in my mind. The pain and all the hard work that was needed to get there are fading away and the memories are becoming more and more enjoyable.
CN: Bradley Wiggins admitted that he didn't enjoy winning the Tour de France, and that it was a lot of stress and pressure. Would you agree now you've won it too?
VN: No, I don’t agree. For me it was amazing to win the Tour. It wasn't a problem or something unenjoyable at all. In fact, I was very determined and focused on winning, so it came pretty easily from a psychological point of view.
CN: You've now joined the exclusive club of only six riders (along with Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Alberto Contador) who have won all three of cycling's Grand Tours. Has winning the Tour de France changed you or affected your life?
VN: There's no reason why I should change. I'm trying and I'm determined to live my life as I always have done. I haven't changed. Of course if I want to treat myself, I'll do it. But I'm still the same person I was before I won the Tour and the same person I was before I became a successful rider. Now I'm on television more, I've done interviews with magazine like GQ and Vogue in Italy but I think they're signs of recognition for what I achieved by winning the Tour de France. All the attention means my life and my winter is busier than usual but it happened after I won the Giro d'Italia too, so I'm used to it.
Targeting the Tour de France in 2015
CN: There have been a lot of reports, debate and discussion about your Grand Tour goals for 2015. You have hinted you would like to ride the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France but it seems the Astana team want you to focus on repeating your Tour de France victory. Can you clarify what your big goal will be for 2015?
VN: I've already decided. I know what I want to do and I know what I don't want to do. Of course, together with the team, I've got to say yes to something and no to other things. I understand that. Life is about making decisions and accepting the consequences of your decisions. I've got an idea of the race programme I want to follow but whatever happens, if I get to do what I want or not, it won't create problems for me.
CN: In Italy, the tifosi, the media and the race organisers want you to ride the Giro d'Italia before going on to the Tour de France as defending champion. Is it possible you'll do the double?
VN: I honestly don't think I'll do the Giro d'Italia. I said I'd do the Giro if I have to, but if I ride it, I want to ride it to win it. At Astana we've also got Fabio Aru, who is more suited to the Giro d'Italia than the Tour de France. And so if I ride the Giro, I'd overshadow him. So the team wants Aru to ride the Giro and I ride the Tour. I understand that choice.
Of course I want to return to the Giro and want to try to win it again because I'm Italian and love the Giro. I didn't ride the Giro after I won it in 2013 but I know that I'll go back to try to win it again in the years to come.
CN: Does team manager Alexandre Vinokourov have the final word on your race programme?
VN: He has a say but so do the people above him, the sponsors in Kazakhstan. Vino is the team manager but just like Dave Brailsford at Team Sky or like Roberto Amadio was at Cannondale and Liquigas, the manager decides things with the sponsors and the team owners.
Cycling isn't like it used to be, where it was the riders who called the shots and decided things. Those days are over. It's the same for everyone who is an employee of a company, who is paid for a specific role in a team or company. The sponsors want the big riders in the big races and want us to try to win them. From that point of view, if I ride the Giro to try and win it, it would perhaps damage my chances of winning the Tour de France for a second time.
CN: Is there a strong rivalry with Fabio Aru? Is it a problem in the team?
VN: No. He can always ask me for advice when he wants. He might not ask but the truth is that we've never really raced together this year but I've never really had any serious problems with him. And I don't think he's had any problems with me. Of course, racing is racing, we're in the same team but we've tried to get on. I think that'll continue while we're in the same team.
CN: Were seeing the routes of the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France a factor in your decision to focus on the Tour de France in 2015? You seem to prefer the Tour de France route.
VN: The routes are a factor. There's a 60km time trial at the Giro d'Italia. I think it's a crazy decision but I suppose it depends if it's a difficult time trial. If it's tough like the one in last year's Giro, then it suits me. But if it's flat and fast like in the 2012 Tour de France, then a time trial specialist could gain three minutes and that's enough time to win a Grand Tour these days. I like the route of the Tour de France because its similar to this year's route but with even less time trialling. I couldn't have asked for much more and the route was perhaps the final factor on deciding my goals for 2015 and again targeting the Tour de France.
In part two of our exclusive interview with Vincenzo Nibali, which will be published later this week, the Italian talks about the impact of the EPO doping cases on his Astana team, gives his position on doping, team manager Alexandre Vinokourov and the MPCC.
He also analyses the Astana team roster for 2015 and talks about his rivalry with fellow Italian Fabio Aru and his Grand Tour rivals Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana.