Vincenzo Nibali can be cycling’s equivalent of footballer Zlatan Ibrahimović and continue to perform at the highest level of the sport in his veteran years.
That is the bold claim by Astana-Qazaqstan DS Giuseppe Martinelli who has been taken aback by Nibali’s form and attitude since rejoining the Kazakh team ahead of the 2022 season.
Having just turned 37, Nibali is one of only six riders to have won all three Grand Tours, his last title coming at the 2016 Giro d’Italia.
Nibali left Astana at the end of that season and in three seasons at Bahrain-Merida and two at Trek-Segafredo, his best results were stage wins in the Giro and Tour de France, and a memorable triumph at the 2018 Milan-San Remo.
Martinelli doesn’t profess belief that Nibali can win one of cycling’s three-week races once again, but does believe that he can continue to be a major player in the biggest races.
“We are talking about a super-motivated champion. One who knows how to read into his future,” Martinelli told La Gazetta del Sport.
“He strongly wanted to come back, and you immediately saw that he is at ease here.
“Do you know Ibrahimović and Milan? He, at 40, talks about the future of the Rossoneri [a nickname given to AC Milan] and wants to win the championship.
“There are those champions who know what’s around the corner. And they still want to be decisive in their own way.
“Ibra already knows everything about everything. He has tried everything, for better or for worse. What else must he discover? Nibali is the same.
“He has won, he has lost, he has fallen, he touched the sky with his finger. I have seen him in [recent] days: something snapped inside him.”
Nibali’s most recent triumph was stage four and the GC at the Tour of Sicily, and Martinelli is confident that that win won’t prove to be his last, even if Astana have only signed him on a one-year contract.
He continued: “On Monday he rode a climb with [David] de la Cruz and in the evening I told him ‘we did the best time’. He lit up. You will see that Vincenzo has some surprises in store.
“But beware, I never said and never will say that he will win the Giro, Tour or Vuelta again.”
Asked how Nibali can overcome the challenge posed by Tadej Pogačar and Egan Bernal, Martinelli suggested that the Italian “can surprise them with an attack, a strategy, something that is inside his DNA.
“To be clear: I do not expect that on the Marmolada at the Giro 2022 or like the Tre Cime di Lavaredo in pink under the snow in 2013.
“But maybe he will be able to do something that will drive people crazy. Or invent something in a downhill finale.
“At the Giro he hasn’t won a stage since Bormio 2017. Wouldn’t it be nice to repeat it?”
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