The Italian is bitter and disappointed about how his spell at Bahrain-Merida is
ending, but the enthusiasm and support he's discovered in just a few weeks with Trek-Segafredo has lifted his morale and made him ready to go again in what is his 16th season as a professional.
"I feel like it's the start of a great new adventure. It's all very stimulating and exciting, especially when it comes to what really matters. I've discovered a new world, a new way of doing things," he tells Cyclingnews during an exclusive interview at the Trek-Segafredo training camp near Siracusa, Sicily, just 90 minutes away from his
hometown of Messina.
Nibali is keen to move on and not look back, but he is still entrapped in his past, at least for a few more weeks.
Due to archaic UCI rules and strict legal obligations, Nibali still has to wear his red Bahrain-Merida colours until January 1, while his teammates wear their new blue-and-white 2020 Trek-Segafredo kit. He also can't ride one of the many bright red Trek bikes carefully prepared by the team mechanics that are parked outside of the hotel. Fortunately his goals for 2020 are clear, and have been confirmed, with the Giro d'Italia, the Tokyo Olympic road race and the testing World Championships all on the horizon.
"I'm not really interested in speaking about the past; I want to look to the future. I feel refreshed and ready to go again," Nibali says. Yet he clearly wants to get a few thinks off his chest before focusing on the road ahead.
Nibali is very different to Rohan Dennis, who suddenly abandoned the Tour de France and never rode for Bahrain-Merida again, but his sentiment seems very similar.
"At Bahrain, I got some great results and have some great memories. In the first year, when the team was brand new, I was third at the Giro d'Italia, second at the Vuelta a España and I won Il Lombardia. Then I won Milan-San Remo, and got other great results, which were very satisfying. I'm proud to have helped create the team with the Prince of Bahrain and to have made the team known all over the world. But sadly something broke down at a certain point, and now we're going our separate ways," Nibali says, biting his tongue with the same force he uses to attack his rivals in Grand Tours and at the hardest Classics.
In recent months, Bahrain-Merida has undergone a number of changes: McLaren has taken a 50 per cent share in the team, and Rod Ellingworth has moved across from Team Ineos to be the new team manager. The team seems to have found a new energy, but Nibali was never interested in staying and being part of the change. Ellingworth didn’t try to keep Nibali on board as team leader, either.
"I don’t even know what Rod looks like; I've never talked to him," Nibali says, bluntly. "I talked to the boss of the whole show, Milan Erzen."
Nibali's bitterness is only tempered by the enthusiasm he has found at
"Trek-Segafredo want me to continue doing what I've always done: try
to be professional and work hard, try to reach the goals we set
ourselves and give my absolute best. I think I can do that because
I've quickly realised they're doing everything they can to help me,"
"I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my equipment, and the Trek
engineers are doing everything they can to help me. They listen to me
and take everything on board. Often they have the answers to my needs
before I even ask them. That's a great feeling."
Going for the Giro d'Italia and Olympic gold
On Thursday, Trek-Segafredo confirmed that Nibali would target the Giro
d'Italia and then the Olympic road race in Tokyo, with Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema leading the way at the Tour de France. Nibali will head to altitude in January, and then make his race debut with Trek-Segafredo at the
Volta ao Algarve in Portugal in February.
Nibali won the Giro d'Italia in 2013 and 2016, and has four other podium spots on his palmarès. He wants to combine pink and gold next summer.
"I decided to target the Giro d'Italia because there's a natural logic to then go on and target the Tokyo Olympics," Nibali explains.
"The Tour de France is traditionally the best way to prepare for the
Olympics, but considering there are only six days between the races next
summer, then the long journey to get to Japan, the time difference,
the hard course and even the expected heat and humidity, I really
believe there's natural logic behind the decision to miss the Tour in
2020 and instead target the Giro and then Tokyo.
"Then there's even the hilly World Championships in Switzerland to aim for, so 2020 is a great season for riders like me. We've talked about in detail in the team, with my coach Paolo Slongo, who's also moved to Trek-Segafredo, and of course with the team manager, Luca Guercilena," he says.
"I've also spoken with the Italian riders who competed in the Tokyo test event in
the summer, and they confirmed it's hard and suited to the strong climbers like me. That's a confirmation that it's right to target it and sacrifice other things for a shot at a gold medal in 2020. The Olympics are something special, even for a professional cyclist. Who wouldn't want to win an Olympic medal? There's the history of it all and the real sense that you're part of something special. I like all of that."
So could Nibali perhaps never ride the Tour again? His aggression would be missed.
"There's still 2021, even if I know I'm not getting any younger. But I'm not done yet," he says.
Indeed, Nibali emanates more determination and Italian grinta than
riders 10 years his junior. Somebody or something has upset him and
hurt his deep-rooted Sicilian pride. There's a sense he's up for a
fight in 2020.
"This year left me a little disappointed and unsatisfied," he admits, a deep frown stamped on his forehead.
"I feel I could have achieved a lot more, but other things got in the
way, and some people made it difficult for me to be at my very best. I
couldn't wait to change teams, and now I can't wait for the new
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