Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) headed home from the Tour of the Alps with yet another podium spot but was buoyed by his performances and feelings as he turned his attention to Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege and then the Giro d'Italia.
The Sicilian went on the attack even on the last stage to Bolzano, in a last-ditch attempt to unsettle 21-year-old race leader Pavel Sivakov and his young Team Sky teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart. Nibali made three accelerations in search of the 33 seconds that separated him from the cyclamen jersey, but Sivakov responded each time and so Nibali had to accept third place overall, on the final podium with Team Sky's next generation.
"I end the race on the podium and that's a good result," Nibali said after posing with the two riders who are a decade younger but will be serious adversaries alongside Egan Bernal at the Tour de France.
"I've recovered well each day and feel good, especially today when there were two big climbs in the finale and it was raining hard. I'm optimistic about how things have gone this week and for the races ahead. I feel good, a win would have made me even happier, but that's OK."
Nibali only had one regret: stage 2, when inexperienced teammate Hermann Pernsteiner went with Sivakov's attack instead of thinking about his team leader.
"We lost sight of what we were doing as a team, and I got isolated and had to go mano-a-mano on my own. The race escaped our grasp in that moment. But we tried to win the stages and even pull back time every day even if I knew it'd be difficult," Nibali said.
"Team Sky were strong and ride a good race. It's difficult to take on two strong riders and then also had a certain Chris Froome working for them. That was a luxury for them. It felt like Nibali against the world, so it wasn't easy.
"This is different to racing a Grand Tour, it's not like the Giro d'Italia, but it's been a good block, with short stages and perhaps just four hours of racing but they were hard and intense. It's a perfect final block before the Corsa Rosa for me."
Nibali will fly to Belgium on Saturday morning with his brother Antonio to complete Bahrain-Merida's squad for Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Time and weather permitting, he ride the final kilometres of the route and study the new finish in central Liege, hoping that the week of intense racing will help rather than hinder him on Sunday.
"We've got to see how I handle the distance. Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a long hard race, I'll need to have good legs after 250km and six hours of racing. Let's hope I recover well and can keep going all the way till Sunday afternoon," he said, still upbeat.
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