By Gregor Brown
Vincenzo Nibali is on his way to unite Italy today in Cuneo, one year after the Giro di Padania debuted in chaos.
"I haven't won since the Tirreno-Adriatico," Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper yesterday. "I was starting to forget the taste of victory."
Nibali, third in the Tour de France behind Bradley Wiggins, won the mountain stage to Prati di Tivo en route to the Tirreno overall. Yesterday, he won the mountain stage to Passo della Bocchetta to increase his overall Padania lead to 40 seconds.
The finish was just up the road from Genova, in Italy's north. Nibali was born on the other end, in Sicily. He moved to Tuscany when he was 16 years old to race and this winter, relocated to the north, just over the boarder in Lugano so that his girlfriend could continue her studies.
As Giuseppe Garibaldi united the country 150 years ago, Nibali united Italian tifosi in the last five years. They cheered in unison when he won the Vuelta a España, and placed third in the Giro d'Italia and in the Tour de France. They will do so again if he pulls off the Padania, which the Lega Nord created last year.
The right-wing, political group (the 'Northern League' in English) created the stage race and named it after the Po Valley. Padania is the name of valley that stretches from the Alps near Turin to the sea near Venice. Since the 1990s, the Lega Nord used it as the name of its proposed state, covering Italy's northern regions that are mostly above Tuscany.
The Lega Nord plays off the tension of economic crisis while it pushes for a northern state without the poorer, southern regions. Some consider it a racist group give its views on southerners and foreigners.
Its flags often wave throughout the north. As with the Basque and Flemish flags, they colour many races - take a look at the finish line photos from the Tour of Lombardy. Last year, the organiser adopted the league's green colour to use for its leader's jersey, which Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) won.
It became too much. Protesters blocked several stages and threatened the riders. Head of the Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA), Gianni Bugno called it a "terrible mix of sports and politics" and was unable to see how the race could continue.
Common sense has won over. The race still only covers the northern regions, is still called Il Padania, but this year is run by Monviso Venezia, a club and race organiser. Monviso Venezia replaced the he green jersey with a blue one, which Nibali is ready to win today. The only connection remains through Michelino Davico, who, in addition to being the race director, is the Lega Nord under-secretary.
Nibali wants to win in another blue jersey. He is using the Giro di Padania as preparation to lead team Italy, in the maglia azzurra, at the World Championships.
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