Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has admitted he is a little behind with his early season training and his thoughts are more about the imminent birth of his baby daughter than his racing, but he still tried to win stage four at the Tour of Oman by going on the attack in the finale with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
The Italian rode defensively on the final climb of the spectacular Bousher Alamrat highway but took his chance on the descent, aware that Grand Tour rival Chris Froome (Team Sky) might have been hesitant to follow him after attacking on the climb.
"Peter (Sagan) went for it on the descent and I went after him," Nibali told Cyclingnews after quickly getting changed in a team car at the finish due to the absence of team buses in Oman.
"I wanted to try and win the stage but I knew it'd be difficult with Sagan there but that didn't discourage me. I rode defensively on the climb, I'm not afraid to admit it because I'm not at 100% of my form yet. But it's good to be up there as I work day after day to improve my form."
Nibali revealed that he lost any chance of victory against Sagan at a final roundabout with just over a kilometre to go.
"We all got it wrong but Peter realised we'd made a mistake before us and jumped across the footpath," he explained. "I wanted to follow him but we had to dive round the roundabout and then chased to get back to Peter. That's why the peloton almost caught us.
Becoming a father
Nibali laughed off the confusion in the finale, happy that he had shown his rivals and proved to himself that his form is improving even though he is about to become a father.
"It's always good to test yourself to see how you’re feeling," he said. "It would have been good to win but losing won't change my life. I'm just please to be on generally on track with my training and how I feel in the race.
"In Argentina, I was quite a bit heavier but I've lost a few kilos. It was a difficult winter for me and I didn't know if I'd even ride here in Oman because my wife is about to give birth to our first child. I'm here racing but I'm also thinking about her. It's not easy to concentrate on the race, knowing that something special is about to happen at home."
Nibali is in frequent contact with his wife, Rachele, and is ready to jump on a plane and head home to Lugano, Switzerland if his wife goes into labour.
"The term officially ended yesterday and she's had a final check. It could happen anytime in the next week," Nibali said with a hint of emotion and determination to be present at the birth of his first child.
Before then, he faces the decisive day at the Tour of Oman: stage five to Green Mountain. The 5.7km, 10.5% mountain finish in central Oman will decide the overall winner of this year's race.
Nibali has a list of rivals he will be marking on the climb to the finish.
"It's a hard finish but I've seen that some riders here are in pretty good shape," he said, perhaps admitting that he is not at their level so early in the season.
"People like Robert Gesink of Belkin and Roman Kreuziger of Tinkoff-Saxo are all riding well. The Team Sky riders all look strong too and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) was up there in front. There's also Purito Rodriguez (Katusha), who won last year.
“They're all contenders and I hope to be up there or at least close to them. We'll find out in just over 24 hours."