After hotfooting it to Belgium from Italy following the Tour of the Alps, Nibali finished eighth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. The race was his final event before he begins his attempt to win a third Giro d'Italia title in two weeks' time. Nibali is widely expected to leave Bahrain-Merida for Trek-Segafredo in 2020 after contract renewal talks broke down but both sides are focused on a successful 2019, with Nibali due to target the Giro d'Italia and then ride the Tour de France.
"He's never been in such good condition before the start of a three-week race – two weeks before – so it's great," Copeland told Cyclingnews at the finish line in Liège.
"With a finish like that, neither one of them [Nibali and teammate Dylan Teuns] are really sprinters. So we knew that, if it finished in a small group, it would be difficult to get a podium spot. But, Vincenzo's condition is a good sign for the Giro, and I think his condition is getting better and better as we get closer to the race, which is the most important thing for us. We're pleased with the way that Liège went. It could have been better, but…"
"It was more of a test because he hasn't ridden a race this long since Milan-San Remo [March 23], so it was a question mark for himself about where he was sitting with his condition," said Copeland. "It was a good test and showed his condition is good, even after the Tour of the Alps, where he finished third, but that's a race made up of stages that are all around 120-150 kilometres, so it's shorter. We're pleased with the way it went."
It was an extremely tight turnaround for Nibali after the Tour of the Alps finished, where he finished third overall, on Friday. His late arrival in Liège on Saturday meant that he missed the team presentation in order to recon the race route in a team car. After the short bursts of activity that make up the Tour of the Alps' stages, Nibali and the team were keen to have him ride Liège course so that he'd be ready to push himself on a longer parcours.
Nibali explained he was tired but satisfied with his ride before dashing to the airport for a Sunday evening flight home.
"I was there with Fuglsang and Alaphilippe and team rode great to help me. But when Fuglsang attacked, there was nothing I could do," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"I recovered a bit on the second part of the climb but Fuglsang had opened a 25-second gap; that was a lot and there no way to pull him back. He deserved to win."
Finishing just behind Nibali was his younger teammate Teuns, who had played a very active role in the finale.
Teuns was not able to immediately follow the attack of Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) on the Roche-aux-Facons, but formed a chase group with David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ). They were eventually caught by a group of chasers and Teuns tried to shut down the gap to David Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), who was second on the road.
"Dylan is such a good kid and such a talent. We saw how much he helped Vincenzo to try to close on Formolo," Copeland said. "I don't think that he knew it was 30 seconds to Formolo – otherwise he wouldn't have pulled so much and he could have maybe sprinted to get a better position, but that's the way it goes. It's sometimes difficult to get this information through to the guys in the final part of the race with the team cars so far behind that we can't talk to them."