Vincenzo Nibali remains concerned about his future following a back injury suffered at the Tour de France in July.
The Italian fell in the 12th stage of the Tour and racing the Vuelta a España marks his return - but he's suffering and losing time on the climbs. Yesterday he lost around eight minutes to the other favourites.
"What can I do here? I'm suffering like a dog," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"If I was someone else, with a different character, I would've already gone home, given up everything. Instead, I'm here, resisting."
He is not worried about the time lost in stage two and stage four on Tuesday, but the nagging back pain represents a concern.
"The problem is my back," he added. "When I push for long periods it hurts. As if I have tendonitis in my back."
He left the Tour on July 19th after a crash believed to be caused by a fan. That night a fracture was revealed in a vertebra and afterwards he underwent surgery to speed the healing. It was a race to even start the Spanish tour on Saturday in Málaga.
The best case scenario for Nibali is that rides through the three weeks to improve for the UCI World Championships. He has won all three grand tours including the Tour of Spain in 2010 but never a rainbow jersey.
The pain is such however that he is simply worried about racing at a high level again.
"The worlds? There's still a lot of ground to cover before Innsbruck. Luckily so," continued Nibali.
"The problem is something else. I'm not upset or disappointed, I'm worried. My back still gives me problems and I can't do much more as long as the situation is like this.
"I'm also worried for the future. The question is will it return to the way it was before the incident? I don't have answers that can satisfy me."
The 33-year-old is due to be one of the Italian team's leaders in the world championships two weeks after the Vuelta ends in Madrid and the course this September 30 suits climbers like Nibali.
Despite the crash, Nibali has had a great early season with his dramatic solo win in the Milan-San Remo Italian classic and his attack in his debut appearance at the Tour of Flanders.
He and the team aimed to repeat his 2014 victory in the Tour de France this July. They decided to skip the Giro d'Italia, which he won twice before, and invest towards a second Tour win. That all changed when a fan stepped too close to Nibali on the way to the Alpe d’Huez ski station.
After the dust settled, Team Bahrain-Merida decided to seek damages from the organiser. The case, like Nibali’s back pain, is ongoing.
"Positive notes? I am recovering well, my legs are not heavy," Nibali said. "But I need to solve my back problem."
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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