Vincenzo Nibali is embarking on his 18th season as a professional but showed the enthusiasm of a neo-pro when he jumped in the early breakaway on the final flat stage of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana on Sunday.
The Italian veteran has won all three Grand Tours and multiple Monuments during his long career, but he couldn't resist testing his legs and taking on his rivals in his debut in Astana Qazaqstan's sky blue colours.
Nibali has hinted 2022 could be his final season but despite two difficult seasons at Trek-Segafredo, as the COVID-19 pandemic massively disrupted the sport and a new generation of riders emerged, the Sicilian is not yet thinking about his post-racing career and may continue on into 2023. He will turn 38 in November but told Cyclingnews he is still enjoying racing.
"It was a bit of a crazy attack, to test my legs in my first race of the season and to have a bit of fun," Nibali said.
"We just went for it to see what happened. I was out of the GC, so I preferred to race hard rather than just finish the race in the peloton. It was also a good workout because we raced for 90km at over 47km/h. I can't remember the last time I did that.
"I was happy that my first race went pretty well. I've got some important goals ahead of me and I need to get ready for them. Some riders are already in form and looking lean after doing altitude camps and lots of intensity. I'm working on a longer and hopefully higher peak for later in the season."
Nibali will ride the Giro d'Italia and probably the Tour de France too. 2022 is no swansong. Indeed he reveals that the plans for him to ride all five monuments, including the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix have been scrapped. He will spend much of April at altitude with several teammates preparing for the Giro. His important goals may no longer include fighting for the maglia rosa but he is taking 2022 very seriously.
"Racing and good results are the end of the process. I think it's important to be focused and build the foundations of your season so you don't have any regrets," he said.
"I don't want to say I want to win this race or finish on that podium, they're goals that are perhaps now out of my reach and out of my control, but I'm going to work hard and see what happens. I'm optimistic and enthusiastic.
"We talked about my race calendar for a long time with the Astana Qazaqstan management and the idea of riding all five monuments was really cool. However, after a detailed evaluation, we realised it wasn't possible if I also want to ride the Giro and Tour.
"I'd have to interrupt or even miss an altitude camp with the other riders, and maybe even miss Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It would have turned my training for the Giro upside down and so was just not worth it. We decided to focus on my strengths and to do the Giro and probably the Tour too. We agreed on that together and I've committed to it and what it entails."
No regrets about two years at Trek-Segafredo
Nibali's palmares includes 11 Grand Tour podiums, two Giro d'Italia victories, a Vuelta a España and his 2014 Tour de France win, all spread across the central decade of his career.
"I always want to do well at the Giro," he let slip, his pedigree still visible. "This year the Giro goes through Sicily and there's even a stage finish in my home town of Messina. That will be emotional. I realised just how much when I won the Giro di Sicilia last year."
Nibali cried profusely, in a mix of joy and relief, when he won the Giro di Sicilia in early October. It was his only victory while riding for Trek-Segafredo and showed that he could still compete and win at a certain level.
However, his two years in the team were often difficult and ultimately disappointing. He arrived as a Grand Tour contender but finished seventh in the 2020 Giro d'Italia held in October due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He recently revealed he was hampered by knee problems in 2021 when he was 18th in the Giro, after breaking his wrist a month before the start. Little went right during his two years at Trek-Segafredo and lots went wrong.
Nibali spoke little English when he joined what is one of the most international teams in the men's WorldTour. He had thrived in teams where Italian was the spoken language and Italian cycling culture was the way of doing things but appeared to never really fit in at Trek-Segafredo.
He talked of language problems in a recent interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, his pride clearly hurt about certain incidents but was apologetic if his words were seen as criticism. He appears not to bear any grudges and is focused on his future with Astana Qazaqstan rather than ruminating on the past.
"It was two complex years, I was used to carefully planning everything and working on everything but COVID turned the world upside down and turned cycling upside down," he said, explaining the wider context.
"We didn't always agree on everything and I perhaps misunderstood some moments but that's life. Every team I've ridden for has included good and bad moments but left good memories. I've now returned to Astana Qazaqstan and I'm still in touch with Sheikh Nasser from Bahrain after we created the team together in 2017. I don't regret my time with Trek-Segafredo and never will.
"Winning the Giro di Sicilia was one of the great moments with Trek-Segafredo. At the end of the day the results were not great and as we all hoped, but it was a great adventure. I'm still in touch with a lot of the riders in the team and I was happy to see Matteo Moschetti win the other day. He's been through difficult times due to injury and I know how hard he has worked to come back and win again."
Nibali seems more comfortable at Astana Qazaqstan, where he is no longer a team leader expected to fight for victory in Grand Tours. That is Miguel Angel Lopez's role. Nibali can ride on emotion, attack when he likes, take risks and accept whatever results arrive.
Astana Qazaqstan have offered Nibali a chance to return to the team where he raced between 2013 and 2016 and where he won the Giro d'Italia twice and the 2014 Tour de France. Both know it could be his final season and so a celebration of his career and season-long goodbye.
Yet if the year goes well and Nibali is still motivated, he may race on. The five-monument swan song could yet be for 2023.
"I've signed for a year with Astana Qazaqstan but I don't want to say I'm going to quit this year. It could be the case but perhaps not," Nibali told Cyclingnews.
"I'll be honest, I haven't even thought about what I'll do after my racing career. I'm focused on the present, on my racing and training and enjoying it all. I can't say I definitely won't race next year, so it's possible I'll ride Paris-Roubaix and the other monuments in 2023.
"If I tell my wife that I want to race on, she'd perhaps kill me but I want to take the next few months to decide and perhaps convince her too…"
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
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.