Vincenzo Nibali has already won more than most cyclists will in their entire careers, but the man nicknamed The Shark admits he is still hungry for more and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
At 32, the Bahrain Merida rider is part of an elite group. The Italian is one of just six cyclists to wear cycling’s Triple Crown – the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana Grand Tour races.
He joined the ranks of the greats with his 2014 Le Tour triumph, an honour also held by Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Belgium’s Eddy Merckx, Spaniard Alberto Contador and compatriot Felice Gimondi.
At his age he still has plenty more miles on the clock, and may even be looking to chase down the likes of Merckx’s overall record of 11 Grand Tour wins.
Nibali sits joint 10th on the list of most wins, with four, alongside Switzerland’s Tony Rominger and Spain’s Roberto Heras. Fellow Italians Gimondi, Gino Bartali and Alfredo Binda, who each have five, are in his sights.
It is clear Nibali is just one of sport’s serial winners, like Roger Federer or Tom Brady. He has a deep desire to compete and succeed. It is engrained in him. Why else would he be back for another season of such gruelling punishment that cycling demands of its athletes.
“No, no, no,” Nibali replies adamantly when asked by Sport360 if he had even entertained the thought of retiring, at Bahrain Merida’s official launch in the Kingdom last month.
“It’s very simple. When I put the number on my jersey on, I want to win. If I put the numbers on my jersey I go.
“When I’m not in the best condition any more, maybe I’ll think about it (retirement) but my condition is good. I like competing and racing, and winning. I like winning at anything, even go-karts. It’s something I have inside.”
Asked what is left for him to achieve having joined the sacred six, Nibali responds: “I’m not thinking about it (why I carry on), believe me. I like to be a rider, and like to ride my bike.
“After that I think ‘Ok I win maybe one or two races’, but my spirit is cycling. I like the competition and being in the race. It makes me feel alive.”
The Shark will emerge from the water to hunt his prey on the roads of the UAE this weekend as the Abu Dhabi Tour, and a very special one at that, returns to the Emirates.
The Tour has been granted WorldTour status by the UCI in just its third version, and Nibali is one of the field’s biggest names, alongside Tour ambassador Mark Cavendish and Team Sky’s Elia Viviani.
Nibali admits he is feeling good after undergoing surgery in August to repair his collarbone, having suffered a double fracture in the road race at last summer’s Rio Olympic Games.
He was in the lead group alongside Colombia’s Sergio Henao and Poland’s Rafal Majka when both Henao and Nibali crashed on a corner on the race’s final descent of Vista Chinesa, around 10km from the finish.
Although that caused mental as well as physical torment, Nibali denied that his painful end to the season gives him extra motivation for the year ahead.
“It’s part of the game. You cannot win every time,” he said.
“Losing is part of the game, this is sport. It can happen. Of course it’s a bit sad because I was going very near to winning a gold medal, but the important thing is to move on.”
Moving on is exactly what he plans to do, with a third Giro d’Italia title (he won his first in 2013 and a second in 2016) his main aim for 2017.
“Goals for the season are the Giro d’Italia. For me it’s the best goal. It’s not easy but I will try to win,” he said.
“In the future I would like to try to win the Tour de France again but for me, in this moment, it’s the Giro. It’s my favourite race, it’s in my home region. It’s a very hard race, in front of my home fans.
“It’s very important for me, but I’m not going to try to win because it’s my third time. I want to win and that’s all. I could maybe think about the history of cycling and winning a third title but for I only want to win, nothing else.”
His performance at the Giro in May will determine whether or not it is the only Grand Tour he participates in, with the Tour de France following in July and the Vuelta in August/September.
Nibali is excited, not only by his own hopes and dreams for the season ahead, but by the talented team Bahrain Merida has assembled around him.
After four successful years with Astana, the Shark said he decided to enter new waters because he would get the chance to lead an exciting new project, surrounded by stars.
“I feel like the chief, I have a responsibility,” said a clearly emotional Nibali at the team launch.
“I feel very proud to be a part of the team and the captain of this new team. Because it was built from the ground up I can choose my own team-mates too, which is important. I could have moved to a new team and been part of another team, but this team is based around me.
“It’s a good mix of youth and experience. We have not only riders who can win Grand Tours but we have good young riders who can get big results. It’s a great mix. We have many stage riders and time trial riders and sprinters.”
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