Vincenzo Nibali has called on people to help each other and 'stay strong and united' during the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic, accepting his racing ambitions and plans for 2020 are of secondary importance and up in the air until a new race calendar is confirmed and racing starts again.
"It's a strange moment because nobody knows when we'll start racing again. I think all the other riders are feeling the same and asking the same questions but there are no easy answer and it seems pointless going training without a goal," Nibali said speaking in Italian, clearly emotional at times, as he answered questions during a live video on Facebook Friday afternoon.
A peak of 2,500 people followed the live session, with Nibali answering questions sent in from journalists, including Cyclingnews. Fans posted more than 1,000 messages, with total views up to 43,00 soon after the live video. Nibali is from Messina in Sicily but lives in Lugano, Switzerland, and has opted to stay there with his wife Rachele and young daughter Emma during the Covid-19 crisis. His parents and brother are in Italy but safe and healthy. Like many people, he uses videos calls to keep in contact.
In the past 24 hours, 627 people died in Italy, with the total number of deaths at 4,032. More than 5,000 of the 47,000 positive cases have fully recovered but 2,655 currently need intensive care in hospitals.
"I feel deeply for the victims of virus and all their families," Nibali said, expressing his sorrow for the many Italians who have lost their loved ones due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
"They often can’t say their last goodbyes to those who have died with the virus, and that's terrible. In a moment like this we can only try to stay strong and united and hope things improve.
"It's good to see that a lot of people have now understood how serious the virus problem is and are working hard to fight it," he said. "My message is get through with your family at home. We often rush around and live our lives on the edge; maybe this moment with family can help us live our lives differently in the future."
A break from serious training
Outdoor cycling is still permitted in Switzerland, but Nibali has opted for recovery phase after finishing fourth at Paris-Nice. He's ridden little outdoors and called on his cycling friends in Italy to stay at home.
"I'm taking a break from serious training and have only done some short rides and a couple of mountain bike rides, while being very careful," he said.
"I've seen the debate about people riding out on the roads. If I can’t ride outdoors here in Switzerland, it'll be a big change and I'll have to work indoors, but I'll accept it. We've all got to change what we do and I'll do it too. I won’t go for six-hour rides but will trying to keep some form. I've called on my friends not to ride in Italy, but things are different for pros who ride for a living and try to be ready for when the races start again.
"Anyone just going out for a ride should be careful, I don’t think third party insurance will cover you if you cause an accident and then there are the obvious aspects about avoiding using hospital resources. It's best not to take any risks. Stay at home!"
A number of questions from reporters concerned Nibali's race plans now that races have been cancelled and even the Giro d'Italia has been postponed. He confirmed that his season, whatever it may look like after the coronavirus, will still be shaped by the Tokyo Olympic road race.
"I'd started racing and my form was improving, I saw that at Paris-Nice, too," he said "It's a pity to see my form fade away but it's the same for everyone. It's especially hard for my teammates who were working towards the spring Classics as a major goal.
"We just don’t know about my possible race plan,"Nibali said. "There are a lot of issues to understand and the organisers are trying to find a solution. I think it all depends on if the Tokyo Olympic Games happen or not and the dates of the three Grand Tours.
"The Olympics only come around every four years, so have got to be considered important. We'll see if they happen or if we have to wait a year. I don't think moving the Olympics to 2021 is a bad idea. I'm 35 this year so they could still be a goal for me. It'll all about peaking for them."
'Grand Tours must be the same length; no salary sacrifice'
Nibali seemed keen to still ride the Giro d'Italia, with the Tour de France in July only a consideration if the Tokyo Olympics moved. Like everyone in Italian cycling, he refuted the idea of reducing the length of the Giro d'Italia to somehow squeeze it in to a new race calendar.
"I’ll speak with team and team manager Luca Guercilena as we do in the winter, to plan, this time a new, ad-hoc race calendar," Nibali said. "I think all three Grand Tours have to stay the same length. Is that a way to save all the races? Maybe, but I don’t agree with the idea of a short Giro. It wouldn’t make sense."
Nibali was also against some kind of rider salary sacrifice to help shore-up team finances, as has been proposed in Italian football.
"I can’t see why an athlete's salary is linked to the virus," he argued. "I'm sure when we're over this it'll be a difficult moment for our sport and all salaries could be lower but we’ll see. It'll be the same for everyone."
Nibali won Milan-San Remo in 2018 with a solo attack and looked back on his victory with happiness. He confirmed he will take part in the virtual ride organised by RCS Sport and Garmin on the final part of the race route.
"My bike is set-up and ready," he said. "I don’t love using a home trainer; I'm old school but they're useful to stay fit. I'm interested to see how it goes. I'm looking to enjoy it and have fun together virtually."
Nibali admitted that his young daughter is aware of the Covid-19 virus crisis and knows the importance of social distancing. Indeed, she joined her father at the end of the Facebook live session to say goodbye.
"Stay at home! Ciao, ciao!" Emma said with a wave.