Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) has raced sparingly thus far in 2017 and picked up few results of note, but the Sicilian was prominent in the finale of stage 2 of the Tour of Croatia on Wednesday, placing third on the summit finish at Biokovo.
Snowfall at the top of the mountain saw the final climb shortened from 27 kilometres in length to a more digestible 12 kilometres. Nibali made a brace of attacks on the climb to the finish but was unable to break clear, and the stage honours fell to Kristijan Durasek (UAE Team Emirates), who jumped from the leading group in the final 200 metres.
“We thought that the climb would be harder, especially in the last three kilometres, but it wasn’t like that,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I tried a couple of accelerations, but there was a big headwind and it was easy to follow if you were on the wheels. In some sections we were climbing in the big ring. Durasek knew the finish well and he’s quite a fast rider. He went with 200 metres to go and he had the best finish.”
Nibali placed third, three seconds down on Durasek, but declared himself content with the result and his showing on the climb. The Sicilian has not raced since Tirreno-Adriatico last month, where he conceded 1:43 to Nairo Quintana on the Terminillo and placed 26th overall. In the intervening period, Nibali has trained at Mount Teide with his Bahrain-Merida team.
“I consider third a good result, I’m quite satisfied with it,” Nibali said. “The important thing for me is to get into race rhythm without doing too much, and get into top condition at the right time.”
The Tour of Croatia is his final competitive outing ahead of the Giro d’Italia, where he lines up as defending champion. He earmarked Saturday’s penultimate stage in Croatia as another useful test before the corsa rosa. “The final climb is more difficult on Saturday, and you have to do it twice,” he said.
Nibali’s thoughts were echoed by his coach Paolo Slongo, who suggested he could hardly have expected more from the day after a month away from racing.
“Vincenzo is happy because the first climb is always an unknown,” Slongo told Tuttobici. “I haven’t been able to analyse the numbers yet because we’re still going to the hotel, but the feeling is that we went up there very hard. As a first test, we’re more than satisfied because Vincenzo told me he had good sensations and in the end that’s what counts.”