Vincenzo Nibali established himself as one of the best stage race riders at the weekend when he won the 101st edition of the Tour de France.
In doing so he became only the sixth man in the history of the sport to complete a career slam of the three grand Tours – France, Italy and Spain.
Fresh from his latest Grand Tour victory euronews caught up with the champion in Paris.
Juan-Antonio Aldeondo, euronews: ‘‘With Italy being such a traditional cycling powerhouse, why did we have to wait 16 years to see another Italian wearing the yellow jersey in Paris?’‘
Vincenzo Nibali: “The Tour is a really important race, there’s a large international participation and it’s really hard to win it. Before Marco Pantani’s victory, which was 16 years ago, the previous one was 33 years before that, Felice Gimondi’s victory. It took many years for an Italian to win the Tour de France. It’s a high-level competition, very important and that’s why it’s so difficult to conquer.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Winning the Tour has always been on your mind. On more than one occasion you have said that one day you’d win it. Did it become an obsession?’‘
Nibali: “No no, on the contrary, I tried not to place too much importance on it. I tried to ride with serenity, in a very relaxed way. Last year I participated in the Vuelta as well, and I lost it in the last week, finishing second. But, in the end, you have to accept the defeat, as well as accepting you can finish second or third. This is cycling.’‘
euronews: ‘‘What does it mean for you to be only one of six cyclists in the sport’s history to have won all the three Grand Tours?’‘
Nibali: “That’s something special and particular, because there are only a handful of people who have achieved this feat. The Vuelta was my first win and gave me a real boost [in 2010]. Then, I started working a lot on the Giro d’Italia, because for an Italian it’s a very important race. I finished on the podium and came very close to success (in 2011), I loved it. Then, last year, in 2013, I won it and for me it was a huge feeling.
‘‘The Giro is a race that I had always dreamt about and I used to watch it avidly on tv. I saw the great champions, such as Indurain and Pantani, they were always there, competing at the Giro. The Tour is always a spectacular race and when I was there, on the lowest step of the podium [in 2012], I said to myself ‘who knows if one day I could win it. I knew it was not easy at all, but I worked really hard to achieve this success. It wasn’t easy, but now I can say I did it!”
euronews: ‘‘What would you like to say to those who think you won the Tour because Chris Froome and Alberto Contador retired after crashing?’‘
Nibali: “Unfortunately, this is cycling. It’s made up of falls, good and bad things. This is part of the game. I can say, though, that I was strong, from the beginning to the end. I won in England, the York-Sheffield stage. Then I won on the Planche-des-Belles-Filles, in the Alps and the Pyrenees. So, I was always in a good position and in good shape. For sure I produced a high-level performance at the Tour.”
euronews: ‘‘Looking at the overall standings, there’s a massive margin between you and the rest of the peloton.’‘
Nibali: “I think that the main factor for this was that in my head the main objective was to fight with Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, with whom I had competed against in the Critérium du Dauphiné. I knew that I had to continue working to reach a high level and I arrived here, at the Tour, well prepared. Maybe, with Froome and Contador still in the competition, the gap would have been a little tighter. But, also last year, at the Giro d’Italia, the lead was big.”
euronews: ‘‘The expectations were high. Astana placed a lot of faith in you and the results weren’t there during the season. The team started to lose patience, but you looked like you were very relaxed in the middle of the peloton. Were you confident about your preparation?’‘
Nibali: “This is normal. Last year I produced a stunning season, from beginning to the end. I finished very well in two big stage races and this is not easy. I almost won two Grand Tour in the same year [he won the Giro and he finished second in the Vuelta]. Then, I participated in the World Championship and it’s normal that, during the winter, I let myself go. Then, in February, my daughter was born, so I devoted myself to the family as well, I gained some weight, but I arrived in July with the right kind of energy. It simply took me more time to be ready.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Now, you are the most ‘sought-after’ cyclist in the peloton and you will not be short of offers. Will you be staying with Astana until your contract runs out in 2016?’‘
Nibali: “I still have two years left on my contract and I’m still here. Astana built a team just for me, so yes I’m going to stay here until 2016.”
euronews: ‘‘Next year, you will be targeting the Tour again. Do you want to prove that you can beat Froome and Contador, Quintana and all the others?’‘
Nibali: “My ambition is to try to beat them, always. For sure, we need to prepare the races well. I mean, the big stage races, which for me are the most important. We need to be in the best condition. Also last year, I raced several times against Contador and Froome and I managed to beat them. Then, of course, there are some years when you win, and others when you lose. But this is normal, because this is sport.”
A proud general manager
Euronews also caught up with team’s General Manager and former pro-Tour rider Alexander Vinokourov, who was understandably full of praise for his winning charge Nibali, as well as the rest of his Astana team.
euronews: ‘‘After Froome and Contador withdrew, the pressure was on. Astana didn’t relax and when the team had to take some risks, it did, without being afraid of the possibility of crashing out.’‘
Vinokourov: “This is part of the race. We stayed concentrated all the time, always leading the way. Everybody can have an accident. Well, of course, I feel sorry for Froome and Contador, but this is part of the game. I don’t think, though, that this can take away from Nibali’s victory. I think that even with Froome and Contador in the race, he could have beaten them. Vincenzo was there, in the mountain stages. He won 4 stages, he had a good performance and for our country, this was a great image. The team was always there, in front of the group, ready to defend the jersey.”
euronews: ‘‘Would your tactics have changed had Froome and Contador remained in the race?’‘
Vinokourov: “We always try to be competitive, try to increase the gap with the others cyclists. And if we had the possibility of winning a stage, we really went for it. In particular, we wanted to win the last Pyrenees stage to show how Vincenzo was the ‘master’ of the Tour and to leave our mark. Everybody was already tired, but they tried to give their best anyway.”
euronews: ‘‘Sometimes it looked like Nibali was riding similar to you during your career. How much is your influence on the team?’‘
Vinokourov: “Well, for sure, they feel it, but Nibali, as a champion, has a mentality easy to manage. The team’s strategy is motivation. We can say that Nibali rides a little bit like me. But he’s Nibali. I’ve never won the Tour, never lived this experience. And the fact that he did it with our team, well, this is the most beautiful thing that could have happened.”
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