Third in the Tour de France two years ago but having had a quieter buildup than his main rivals Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, Astana leader Vincenzo Nibali has said that he has done good work in recent weeks to ensure he is in optimum shape for the Tour.
Nibali was hoping to show himself in the Critérium du Dauphiné but had to be satisfied with sixth, eighth and eight on stages plus seventh overall.
That showing led the questions about whether he would be ready in time to challenge Froome and Contador in the Tour but, according to his team, a slower build-up was deliberately planned and things have progressed since the end of that race.
“After the Dauphine I have been trying to build up my shape with the team in San Pellegrino,” Nibali said at his team’s pre-Tour press conference on Friday. “We have been working to be in the best shape for this Tour de France.”
Although Nibali won’t have an accurate way of comparing himself to his rivals until the Tour is well underway, he is confident that things are heading in the right direction. “My last two races were very good. I won the Italian road championships so I think I am in a good shape,” he said. “My team is also a very strong for this Tour.”
Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang will be one of those who will support Nibali in the Tour. He confirmed that much had been done in the training camp after the Dauphiné, both by Nibali and also by his team-mates. “It is difficult to say how much progress has been made, but we have done some good work in the mountains in San Pelligrino in Italy, staying at altitude,” he told CyclingTips.
“Vincenzo did a lot of work behind the scooter on the climbs to try to simulate the kind of attacking that Froome would do, from analysing his riding style.
“For the rest of us it has more been normal, basic training, the normal intervals, to be in good condition to help him.”
He said that he was personally satisfied with his own condition. “My form is good. We have to see how the race is going to go.”
Nibali has been regarded for several years as the Italian most likely to win the Tour. He highlighted his potential in 2010 when he won the Vuelta a España. Last year he deliberately chose the Giro d’Italia over the Tour, riding strongly throughout the three week race to take the Maglia Rosa to the finish.
On Saturday he returns to the Tour to try to take what would be his biggest career success. Many see Froome and Contador as the two big favourites, although Sean Kelly – in his first Tour blog for CyclingTips – cautions against presuming the 2014 Tour winner will necessarily be one or other of those two.
Nibali was asked how he compared to the Briton and the Spaniard, and if he saw himself at the same level before the race. “It is quite difficult to say if I am a favourite like Froome or Contador because they are very great riders. I think that Contador has got more experience than I, but I think there will be a very good fight in this Tour,” he answered.
“I think we also need to see other riders such as Rodriguez, Valverde, Rui Costa. They could give us a big surprise in this Tour de France.”
The weeks ahead will reveal if Nibali is to the fore in the battle for yellow. Given his riding style, though, it seems clear that the race will benefit from having him in it, with several opportunistic attacks likely. Unpredictable, aggressive and already a double Grand Tour winner, he will seek out any weaknesses in his rivals and exploit them wherever and whenever it is possible.