Italian national coach Davide Cassani believes that Vincenzo Nibali will be the man to beat at next year’s Giro d’Italia. Nibali has not confirmed that he will ride the 2019 corsa rosa, but race director Mauro Vegni said earlier this week that he expects the Italian to return to the race after focusing on the Tour de France this season.
Nibali is a two-time winner of the Giro d'Italia, having won it in 2013 and 2016. Cassani thinks that this year's route is well suited to his characteristics.
"It's a Giro made especially for him,” Cassani told Gazzetta dello Sport. “Vincenzo knows how to defend himself in time trials and in the third week he brings out the best of himself.
"He has a courage out of the ordinary, look at the way he prepared and rode the World Championships after what happened to him in the Tour. And he has talent, he has the taste for victory, he rides with a sort of positive ‘doesn’t give a damn attitude’ that allows him to overcome critical moments. The man to beat will be Nibali.”
The 2019 Giro d’Italia route was unveiled in a presentation Milan on Wednesday evening. The 3,518-kilometre parcours will set off from Bologna on Saturday, May 11 and finishes in Verona three weeks later. The first week is bookended by time trials and there is a decisive third on the final day of racing. Complementing the time trials are some legendary climbs with the Passo Gavia, Passo del Mortirolo and the Passo Manghen all to be ridden. The final week will be relentless with just one sprint stage midweek before the grand finale to Monte Avena and the race-closing individual time trial.
“There are two time trials, and if someone loses ground, he will have to try to recover quickly,” said Cassani. “[It will be] a crescendo of emotions before the grand finale, deadly, with high mountain stages of high mileage that exactly befits the professionals."
While Nibali is expected to be on the start line in Bologna, the return of Chris Froome to the race is much less clear. Froome has not ruled out defending his title next season, but his decision to ride the Giro will be balanced off his desire to win a fifth Tour de France title. Cassani is not sure if Froome will be back next May, but said that Team Sky will have some serious firepower nevertheless.
"He has already triumphed, he can go on without any trouble,” Cassani said. “But above all, he has the fifth Tour de France [in his sights], and in this sense, the Giro is a risk. If Chris is not there, Team Sky will still have a man of a high level: I'm talking about Bernal, who with Nibali is my favourite already from now.”
As well as Bernal, Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas is another possible contender for the team. The Welshman has said that he has ‘unfinished business’ with the race after he departed early in 2017 following a crash on stage 9 that was initiated by a motorbike on the side of the road.
Cassani was also asked about the chances of Fabio Aru, who was the Italian fans’ biggest hope ahead of the 2018 race. However, the 28-year-old suffered early on before he eventually abandoned in the final week. He also had a difficult Vuelta a Espana later on in the season and ended the year with little to write home about. Cassani believes that Aru can bounce back and that his disappointments could make him stronger.
"He comes from a disastrous season, and is the first to have paid the consequences,” he said. “But he is 28 years old, he is a smart boy who has worked hard to emerge. Now, he's at the key moment of his career and the next Giro will be right for him. He can be reborn, he can be stronger: it is from the defeats that better men are born."