Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) has spoken out about the behaviour of fans at last month’s Tour de France, where a spectator caused the crash on Alpe d’Huez that left him with a broken vertebra and forced him to abandon the race.
Nibali appeared to be brought down when his bike was hooked by the strap of a spectator’s camera. The incident took place on a stretch of road where visibility had been reduced by the release of a flare. Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida team have said that they are considering legal action against Tour organisers ASO for failing to manage the crowds on Alpe d’Huez. On the climb, another spectator stepped into the road to hit Chris Froome (Team Sky) as he rode past.
“In some circumstances, cycling has become a circus,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport, as he steps up his training so he can ride the Vuelta a Espana. “There must be fans, but like that isn’t good. People drink too much, they're doing anything just to appear on TV. With people in the middle of the road, often with flags, we’re riding blind, without being able to see where we’re going and praying to heaven that the road opens up in front of us.
“The team and I paid heavily for this situation, because 70 per cent of a team’s visibility comes at the Tour. Beyond the damage to your health, economically, what is the value of the damage suffered?
“Also – and he never complains – but does it seem right to you that Froome came to be hit while he was doing his job? He took a blow just before my crash. All too often, we’re riding in crazy situations.”
Despite his injury, Nibali remounted and completed the stage to L'Alpe d'Huez, almost regaining contact with the yellow jersey group within sight of the line to maintain his fourth place on general classification. That night, however, an x-ray in Grenoble confirmed a fracture of the T10 vertebra and Nibali was forced to abandon the Tour de France.
“If you think about it, it’s madness. I was immobile on the ground in tremendous pain. It wouldn’t have needed much more and maybe now I wouldn’t be able to move,” Nibali said of the way another fan quickly lifted him up after his crash.
“At the finish, I wasn’t even able to climb off the bike. My team understood immediately that it was a bad situation. But the worst moment was when they told me that I would be out for three months to heal. My jaw dropped, but operation ‘immediate healing’ began straight away.”
The Vuelta and the World Championships
Nibali underwent percutaneous vertebroplasty surgery in Milan on July 31 to stabilise his fractured vertebrae and speed up his recovery. He began to ride on the road again earlier this month in Sicily, where he attended his grandfather’s funeral.
At the weekend, Nibali confirmed that he will ride the Vuelta a España, which gets underway in Malaga on August 25, but he stressed that he will not have any general classification aspirations. Nibali will instead hope to build form ahead of the World Championships road race in Innsbruck, which takes place on a testing course well-suited to his talents.
“The Vuelta is the best road to Innsbruck. You know that you’ll find the right condition there, that even without trying to, you’ll ride at the rhythm you need,” Nibali explained. “Otherwise, even if you concentrate a lot, it’s very hard to prepare yourself to the maximum [in training].”
Currently training near his home in Lugano in Switzerland, Nibali admitted that he is a long way shy of his best form.
“On Friday, I made my first big effort. Three hours with a test to understand my current values,” Nibali said. “I came home dead. My condition is like it would be in January.
"During the test, [the injury] caused me no discomfort. But if I spend a long time in a fixed position, I feel a strong discomfort. It hurts. I’m struggling to rotate my chest to the right, but I hope the situation improves. Even the post-training massage has to be light and indirect.”
The Vuelta a Espana starts in Malaga on Saturday August 25. The men's road race World Championships will be held on Sunday September 30.
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