With a healthy quota of time trialling on the menu at this year’s Tour de France, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) is keen to test himself against the clock at the Critérium du Dauphiné this week.
The Sicilian will line up in July with eyes on a podium place, but is well aware that he will need to limit his losses to the likes of Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC) if he is to aspire to overall honours.
Nibali declared himself pleased with his showing in Sunday’s opening prologue at the Dauphiné, where he finished 22nd, 10 seconds down on winner Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge), 9 down on Wiggins and just 5 behind Evans.
“A prologue is always a violent effort, not very well suited to my characteristics as an endurance rider, so I can only be happy with a result like this,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport. “Such a short distance is suited to the specialists and to the track riders, and on top of that, Wiggins took a lot more risks than me.”
Sunday’s short, 5.7km time trial was a mere prelude to the rather sterner test that awaits on the road from Villié-Morgon to Bourg-en-Bresse on Thursday. At 53.5km, it will be the longest time trial Nibali has tackled since the penultimate stage of the 2008 Tour de France, where he finished over five minutes down on Stefan Schumacher, who subsequently tested positive for CERA.
“I’ve only done a time trial of that length once before,” he said. “It’s true that I’ve gone well in all of the other time trials since and it’s true that I’ve improved, but the longest of those were around 40km, so Thursday’s stage is an unknown for me.”
The Tour’s final time trial to Chartres is of similar length (52km), and with so many of the top contenders on duty at the Dauphiné, Nibali knows that this week’s time trial will be an important pointer for July.
“I’ll have to do everything well, concentrate and prepare the race as though we were already at the Tour,” he said. “I have to understand precisely what the gap is between me and the best time triallists, because 80 per cent of my rivals for July are here.”
One of those rivals is Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), who coughed up 28 seconds in the prologue as he rode to a lowly 102nd. “He seems to be a little behind,” Nibali said. “He hasn’t won yet this year, and I think he will have to suffer a bit.”
Nibali also acknowledged that he needs to avail of the week of racing in the Alps to draw closer to his own best form. “But it’s better that way, otherwise I would be too advanced,” he said. “I have to ride without wasting a pedal stroke. Everything has to be aimed towards the objective.”