Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) starts the Giro d’Italia as the leader of the Italian challenge to Alberto Contador, but the Sicilian has insisted that such pressure and responsibility on his shoulders has not affected his mindset in the build-up to the race.
“It’s true that there’s more pressure, but I’m approaching the race with the same calm as ever,” Nibali said at Liquigas-Cannondale’s final press conference. “I’ve arrived in the condition to do well. As always, I’m looking to do my best, and if you do that, then you can’t be disappointed.”
Although Contador rides the Giro with the spectre of a possible suspension looming over him as the Court of Arbitration for Sport deliberates on his positive test for Clenbuterol at last year’s Tour de France, Nibali does not believe the Spaniard will be affected by the matter out on the road.
“We’ve seen him before and we see him now, he’s still the same,” Nibali said. “He hasn’t changed much, and he’s approaching the Giro better than he did in 2008, as he is better prepared this time.”
A popular topic with sections of the Italian press was the impact that the potential of a retrospective disqualification for Contador might have on the tactics at the Giro.
Nibali was careful not to be drawn into speculation about whether riders would be tempted to compete for second place, in the hope of being declared the Giro winner if Contador is subsequently suspended.
“Answering that is a little difficult,” Nibali said warily. “If he drops me, it means that he is stronger. I’ve come here to do the maximum, to do my best. I’m not giving in.”
Inventive race tactics
Nibali acknowledged that Contador’s abilities against the watch and in the mountains make him a redoubtable opponent, but he hinted that he would be inventive in his bid to try and beat him.
“He’s strong in the climbs and the time trials, so we’ll need to look at the circumstances of the race,” Nibali explained.
One area in which Nibali holds the upper hand on Contador is descending, but the Sicilian admitted that it would be difficult to make significant gains.
“The finishes are all uphill,” Nibali pointed out with a smile, before commenting on the treacherous descent of the Crostis. “It’s not worth risking everything on such a dangerous descent.”
The Sicilian was also keen to downplay the possibility of the Italian riders forming an alliance in order to repel the threat posed by Contador.
“Perhaps some alliance could form in the future, but I don’t know,” he said. “That kind of thing arises during a race, so we’ll have to see how things are going.”
While Nibali believes that the fearsome stage 14, featuring the Crostis and the Zoncolan, might well prove to be the decisive stage of the Giro, he also warned of the dangers posed in the race’s opening week. In particular, he is mindful of the challenges posed by the unmade roads the peloton will face on stage five. Last year Nibali lost the pink jersey after crashing on rain-soaked dirt roads near Montalcino.
“There are a lot of traps,” Nibali pointed out. “You only need to think about stages like the one to Orvieto, which a lot of people haven’t done. If it rains, it could be this year’s Montalcino.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.