Jai Hindley won the 2022 Giro d’Italia but Vincenzo Nibali received the biggest cheer as he rode into the Verona amphitheatre and made an emotional farewell to the race that inspired him as a boy in Sicily, and which he won in 2013 and 2016.
The whole Roman amphitheatre chanted “Vinc-enzo, Vinc-enzo, Vinc-enzo, Vinc-enzo” as he concluded his 11th and last Giro d’Italia.
“Grazie, grazie,” Nibali said from the stage, his thanks reflecting those of the crowds.
“I’m perhaps even more emotional than when I won the Giro, so thanks again for everything.”
“It was very emotional riding into the arena, it’s a special way to end a Grand Tour, especially my last one. Hearing the crowd cheer my name is magical, it’s always been a special part of the Giro. I know that people have always cheered for me, from the road side and from in front of the television. Thank you to everyone.”
Nibali returned to the podium later to collect the Trofeo Bonacossa, a special prize named after the first owner of La Gazzetta dello Sport, the Italian newspaper that still owns the Giro d’Italia. It was a kind of a life-time achievement award.
Nibali is a proud Sicilian and rarely shows his emotions, but this Giro d’Italia was always going to be different. Despite turning 38 in November and his spring wrecked by COVID-19 and illness, Nibali still wanted to do well, perhaps win a stage, finish in the top 10 or even better, and was thrust into a team leadership role when Miguel Ángel López climbed off on stage 4 due to a thigh injury.
He was bitterly disappointed to lose two minutes to his overall rivals on his home roads on the slopes of Mount Etna, but then lived the emotions of confirming he would retire at the end of 2022 the next day when the Giro d’Italia visited his home town of Messina.
Finally announcing an end date to his career seemed to lift a burden from Nibali’s shoulders and he began to climb with the best, eventually rising to fourth overall, 9:02 down on Jai Hundley. Nibali was only 49th in the Verona time trial and so held off Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) to finish fourth by just 12 seconds.
“I’m happy to have finished fourth,” Nibali said, finally accepting the results of three weeks of hard racing against riders at least a decade younger than himself.
“I’ll be honest, I was tired in the time trial. I tried to do my best and stay focused during my ride but I know it wasn’t a great ride. I’m happy with my race. I fought hard, I suffered, I had good days and bad days but I never gave up.”
Nibali will race on with Astana Qasaqstan for the rest of 2022. However, he has no plan to ride the Tour de France and probably not the Vuelta a España. His home Grand Tour is his last dance, with Il Lombardia in October, the Classic he has won twice, a final goal to aim for to sign-off on a high rather than slide away quietly.
“Now it’s time to take a break and then think about the rest of the season,” he said.
“I’ve made my decision to retire and I don’t think I’ll change my mind, surprisingly leaving the door open to any future change of heart.
“I’m sure I’ll miss the races but I hope people will always appreciate what I’ve achieved.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.