By Julien Pretot
BOLOGNA, Italy (Reuters) – Vincenzo Nibali’s flamboyance and versatility have earned him titles in all grand tours and the Sicilian is quietly confident of a third Giro d’Italia ahead of top favourites Primoz Roglic and Tom Dumoulin.
The ‘Shark of Messina’ might be past his prime and, in a race featuring three time trials, he will need to be creative in the mountains and time his efforts perfectly, but that’s exactly what the 34-year-old excels in.
One of only two active riders with titles in the Vuelta, the Giro and the Tour de France, Nibali was initially out of contention in the 2016 Tour of Italy before resurrecting in spectacular fashion in the final week to add to his 2013 triumph.
“I’m very calm,” Nibali told reporters after a decent build-up to the three-week race that will start with an eight-km individual time trial in Bologna.
Saturday’s solo effort against the clock, which finishes with a gruelling short climb up San Luca, is expected to suit Slovenian Roglic and Dutchman Dumoulin, the 2017 Giro winner who is attempting a Giro-Tour double that has not been achieved since the late Marco Pantani won both races in 1998.
“I don’t know if it’s possible to win the Giro and the Tour the same year but I’m here to win the Giro,” Dumoulin told reporters.
“I don’t expect anything at the moment. There’s a possibility that I take the Maglia Rosa if I have the right legs but it’s not in my mind to think what I’ll do if I win the opening time trial.
“It’s a beautiful time trial that we start with. I love this kind of uphill finish.”
Dumoulin has yet to win this year, just like Nibali who has not won a race since Milan-Sanremo last year, but the Team Sunweb rider is also expecting to peak for the Giro.
Roglic, on the other hand, has been shining all season, winning the three races he has participated in — the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie.
Even if he has not won a grand tour yet, the Team Jumbo-Visma rider finished fourth overall in last year’s Tour de France.
“I didn’t see any need to hide my form there. Every race I start, I do it for winning. The Giro looks hard on paper,” said Roglic.
“I’ve recce’d the main mountain stages. I can do well on all terrains.”
If Nibali is expected to lose ground on Dumoulin and Roglic in the time trials, including the final one on the last day in Verona on June 2, the Team Bahrain-Merida leader will have plenty of opportunities to unsettle his rivals in the mountains.
Stage 16 could be a big shake-up day with more than 5,000 metres of climbing over 226km with the ascents of the Gavia and Mortirolo passi.
The rider in pink after that stage will however have no guarantee of prevailing in Verona since organisers have peppered the 20th stage with five climbs in the Dolomites.
Other general classification contenders include Vuelta champion Simon Yates of Britain, Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez and Spain’s Mikel Landa while Team Ineos’s young guard of Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart will be looking to have fun and learn. [n:L5N22L6IP]
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)