The Italian Grand Tour specialist says one-day race Strade Bianche motivates him to try his hand at the cobbled Classics

The white rolling roads around Siena, used in Strade Bianche, inspire Grand Tour star Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) to compete in the Tour of Flanders.

The Sicilian made sure the Bahrain-Merida team included him in its eight-man roster for Strade Bianche, which covers 61.9 kilometres of the famous white gravel roads before its finish in Siena’s Piazza del Campo.

>>> Strade Bianche 2017 start list

“The gravel feels a bit like off-road or mountain biking,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. “It’s something different. And so I’m thrilled to ride the Strade Bianche.

“There’s a taste of Roubaix, of Flanders, which I could also think about racing one day.”

Nibali has won all three Grand Tours, including the Giro d’Italia twice in 2013 and 2016. His 2014 Tour de France title came partly thanks to the chunk of time he gained over the muddy Paris-Roubaix cobble sectors covered in stage five.

However, ‘The Shark’ has limited his Monument rides to Milan-San Remo, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia. He placed third in San Remo, second in Liège and won Lombardia in 2015.

Out of all the Grand Tour champions, he is the most complete cyclist. His former team manager Giuseppe Martinelli said, “He’s got better bike skills than Froome and Contador.”

However, the 63-kilogram Sicilian has never risked his early season with a ride in the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. In 2014, he was due to race the Tour of Flanders, what the locals call ‘De Ronde’, in preparation for the Tour de France, but team Astana decided against it as the race approached.

Nibali will be riding with the new Bahrain-Merida squad this year. Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

Nibali could consider a different spring programme in the coming years. A test ride of Strade Bianche’s roads sparked the idea. Such hard races leave you exhausted, “but happy,” he said.

“My team-mate Valerio Agnoli said, ‘Strade Bianche? You’re foolish!’ Instead, for me it’s beautiful to race those roads,” Nibali continued.

“There’s not the history, or the tradition like the northern Classics have because they are so old, but it only needed a few years and this became one of the most loved races in cycling.

“There’s the Siena setting, the Piazza del Campo that is envied around the world. How many races end in a setting like this?”

Since last year, the race also starts in Siena. Since its start in 2007, it has always finished in the square known for its Palio horse races.

“When you finish you have a strange feeling because even if you went well you feel consumed, finished, but happy.”

After he finishes Strade Bianche he will continue to build for the Giro d’Italia, May 5 to 28. His schedule includes the GP Industria & Artigianato, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Croatia, but – at least for this year – lacks cobbled Classics.