Trek-Segafredo team manager Luca Guercilena believes that Vincenzo Nibali is genuinely interested in signing with his team for 2020. The multiple Grand Tour winner is out of contract with Bahrain Merida at the end of this season, and despite negotiations having taken place for several months between Nibali and his existing team, no deal has been signed.
On Tuesday La Gazzetta dello Sport revealed that Guercilena met with Nibali and his agent in Italy in order to discuss a possible deal. The meeting took place at Milan’s Malpensa airport, just before Guercilena travelled to the Tour Down Under.
Nibali came close to joining Trek-Segafredo in 2016 but opted to sign for Bahrain-Merida instead. At the time negotiations with Trek had reached an advanced stage, but the Italian team eventually moved for Alberto Contador after Nibali slipped through their fingers.
Cyclingnews spoke to Guercilena in Adelaide, where the Trek-Segafredo manager has arrived ahead of the Tour Down Under.
"Clearly Nibali is one of the most important riders in the peloton," Guercilena said.
"We know that he's on the market but it's too early to say that it's all done or set up. He's an interesting guy, we know him as a rider, he's Italian, and we have an Italian sponsor, so clearly there's interest. But he's not the only rider on the market and he's not the only Italian rider. Now is just the moment to calm down and keep feet on the ground."
Guercilena signed Richie Porte ahead of the 2019 season but has budget to expand the team for next season. Coffee brand and second sponsor Segafredo have longed for a high-profile Italian rider since coming on board. With Fabio Aru's star on the wane and Gianni Moscon currently tied to Team Sky for the foreseeable future, Nibali remains a real interest.
"Yes, we met, and like I said, he's on the market. We listened to the numbers, the motivation. We've done that with other riders, and it's great to do that with riders who are great champions. Clearly now we're focusing on this season, which is much more important," Guercilena said.
The meeting between Guercilena and Nibali was set up by the rider's agent Johnny Carera, and Guercilena denied that he was the source of the La Gazzetta dello Sport’s story.
"It was set up by Carera. It's always best to meet in person, rather than have digital contact when you're talking about investing," Guercilena said.
When asked if he thought that Nibali's agent had orchestrated the meeting, and then leaked the details to the press in order to push Bahrain into making Nibali a contract offer, Guercilena shrugged. He argued it wasn't his place to comment on speculation but he believed that Nibali had shown enough interest in a possible move suggest that the interest was real enough.
"I believe that he's for sure interested and Segafredo is the only big Italian sponsor in cycling. It's understandable that Vincenzo is the biggest Italian rider right now and a big champion," he said. "He has ideas of riding for Italian sponsors and we're in the same situation as a couple of years ago when we tried to have him on board. It's a complex negotiation though."
Age is not an issue
Nibali turned 34 in November and while Trek-Segafredo have a history in signing veteran Grand Tour riders, Guercilena believes that Nibali's star still burns brightly.
"We have Valverde as the world champion, so the age factor isn't always a limit, and in some cases it's a benefit. Big champions are big champions. Age isn't a big deal for us, because we invest in riders of a certain age and the return on investment has always been there."
La Gazzetta dello Sport suggested that the financial package to secure Nibali and his support entourage would cost close to €4 million per year. Guercilena would not talk about specific figures, and while he clearly acknowledged his interest in the Italian rider, he also stressed that Trek-Segafredo were focused on supporting Porte during the Australian's debut season with the team.
"I never like to talk about numbers. We know that champions are expensive and they never come by themselves. They always come with people around them, but right now I'm focused on Richie Porte, and not other riders,” he said.
“We want to be good everywhere, so we need riders for GC and the Classics and big champions make a difference, also with promoting our sponsors. Nibali is a great champion, he brings the right visibility and he's still competitive. He's a real fighter. He brings emotions to cycling and fans. That's something we appreciate but many things still need to come together."