Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) has said that Michele Scarponi (Lampre) will be his biggest rival for overall victory at the Giro d’Italia, but he acknowledged that Riccardo Riccò will also pose a significant threat.
“For 2011, my rival at the Giro will be Scarponi,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport. “That’s not to undervalue Riccò, who will be returning to three-week races.”
Nibali locked horns with Riccò on several occasions as an amateur and he is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with his erstwhile rival on one of cycling’s biggest stages.
Riccò returned to racing last March after serving a suspension for CERA use but he failed to secure an invitation to last year’s Giro. His Vacansoleil team secured a ProTeam licence for 2011, however, and Riccò is set to feature at the Giro.
“He’s a tough and unpredictable adversary, who’s capable of bluffing,” Nibali explained. “He’s a year older than me, so I came up against [Giovanni] Visconti more often.
“However, I remember a duel at the amateur national championships, where Riccò won riding very strongly. Now he’s back after a long lay-off. He has to get back into the game, also in terms of credibility.”
Riding the Giro without Basso
Nibali finished 3rd at the 2010 Giro behind overall winner and teammate Ivan Basso. With the latter focusing his energies on the Tour de France this year, Nibali looks set to be handed the reins of Liquigas leadership at the Giro. He insists that his Giro challenge will not suffer from Basso’s anticipated absence.
“I’m not worried, last year I gained experience by winning the Vuelta as a leader,” Nibali said. “It’s right that everybody concentrates on his own objective, in order to avoid conflicts. Ivan and I are always comparing notes, even by phone, and he continues to give me advice.”
As in 2010, when he won the Vuelta a Espana after finishing on the podium at the Giro, Nibali expects to ride two Grand Tours this season. The Sicilian hinted at a possible return to the Tour de France, where he finished 7th in 2009.
“I’ve had the Giro in my head for months,” he said. “But afterwards, I could help Basso at the Tour.”
For now, however, Nibali is fully focused on his home tour.
“[Winning the Giro] would show that I’m not a flash in the pan and it would be the realisation of a dream,” Nibali said. “The people are waiting for it, they want an Italian to win the Grand Tours in the future as well.
“On the street they only ask me about the Giro, they don’t talk about the Tour. The Giro for us is passion, it’s Coppi’s race, the race that has marked our history. And then a Giro that goes through Messina is special.”
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