By Martyn Herman
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Italian Vincenzo Nibali is the most successful Grand Tour rider who will start this year’s Tour de France on Saturday but admits he might go for stage wins rather than chase overall victory.
For Peter Sagan, however, the vision is clear — winning the sprinter’s green jersey for a record seventh time.
Nibali, the 34-yaer-old Bahrain-Merida rider, won the 2014 edition and with four-time champion Chris Froome absent after a horror smash he is one of the names expected to be in the mix for the yellow jersey.
Speaking on the eve of the start in Brussels, Nibali said the effort of trying to win the Giro d’Italia this year, when he finished second behind Richard Carapaz, had left him “between a rock and a hard place” at the Tour.
“My fear is that if I ride for the GC (General Classification), I’ll be okay at the start of the Tour but then I might fade in the third week,” he said on Friday. “I might do okay in the GC but then be unable to win a stage. Sometimes it’s better to focus on one thing.
“A stage win at the Tour de France is a big deal — two or three even more so.”
With the first few stages likely to be the domain of the sprinters Nibali, who crashed out heavily last year in the Alps, said he would have more idea of his form after stage six which finishes with a brutal climb to La Planche des Belles Filles.
“After the sixth stage I will see how I feel,” he said. “La Planche des Belles Filles is a hard finish and will make things very clear. If my condition is fine, I will fight for the General Classification.”
“I have to wait a bit to find out about my form. I don’t know if I recovered from the Giro’s fatigue. In any case the final week of racing will be dangerous for everybody.”
Sagan, cycling’s answer to a Hollywood superstar, has no such quandry and will be targeting Saturday’s 194-km opening stage which will likely end in a bunch sprint in Brussels.
The Slovak’s Bora Hansgrohe team are throwing all their resources at helping him move past Andre Greipel who he matched last year by winning the points competition and taking the green jersey for the sixth time in his career.
“Peter is in good form and has proven on six occasions, that he has what it takes to ride to Paris in green,” team manager Ralp Denk told reporters. “It goes without saying that we’re going to give everything we have to support his quest for the record in this respect.”
Sagan, in his own laconic fashion, said the goals were the “same as every year”. “Of course it would be nice to become the first rider to win the green jersey seven times. But I’m not thinking about that just yet. It’s a long road to Paris.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Chopra)