Vincenzo Nibali says he feels "empty" only a few days into the Vuelta a España and ruled out repeating his 2010 victory.
The Sicilian of Bahrain-Merida is recovering from a crash and fractured vertabra in the Tour de France. A fan caused him to fall on the Alpe d'Huez climb and he abandoned that night. He races the Spanish tour with only 20 days of training in his legs.
"No, I'm not sick. I don't I feel finished. Simply, I'm empty," Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport only 48 hours into the race.
"But really this is what I expected. You know that I didn't like my preparation beforehand."
He lost 4-04 minutes on stage two on the Caminito del Rey finish. The favourites rode away, including eventual stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), new race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
Nibali won the Spanish Grand Tour in 2010 and continued to win all of cycling's Grand Tours – the Giro d'Italia twice and the Tour de France in 2014. This year, he won the Milan-San Remo with a surprise solo move off the Poggio and aimed at the Tour de France.
A fan's camera strap or something similar took down Nibali with only four kilometres to race on Alpe d'Huez. Nibali never truly had a chance to challenge himself or the others, including eventual overall winner Geraint Thomas (Sky).
Coming to the three-week Vuelta a España is "a miracle" considering that he could not train for two weeks. When he did, he felt no power in his legs.
"For us to be at the Vuelta with Vincenzo is already a win," general manager Brent Copeland said. "Forty days ago it seemed impossible, that we'd need a miracle."
Copeland and the team are pursuing damages from Tour organiser ASO for not protecting the star riders. The team invested nearly one year and much money in Nibali's Tour quest – all ended by a fan too close to the action. The Tour this year had several incidents where fans punched riders or affected racing with flags and smoke bombs.
"There has to be more protection from the organisation to prevent this in case there are drunk fans running around going crazy," Copeland told Cycling Weekly earlier this month.
"We are still going ahead with the lawyers. It's either the insurance money or we will make a case about what happened."
Nibali realistically will aim for stage wins and form ahead of the World Championships two weeks after the Vuelta ends. Another overall win in the Vuelta, at least this year, is not on his mind.
"I can't win, let's not beat around the bush," Nibali explained ahead of the race.
"I have a kilo extra on me and I'm pushing fewer watts. It's been 20 days of training that I've had for this race. I didn't prepare for the Vuelta. I couldn't.
"It's like going to school without having studied for the test. It can go well if they ask you only those two things that you know."
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