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The Sicilian “Shark” rode clear of his rivals on the wet and muddy cobbles in 2014 for gains that paved the way to his eventual overall victory. Nibali has also won the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, and launched attacks for monument wins in Lombardia and, this year, Milano-Sanremo. Such aggressiveness will be welcomed, and even encouraged, by Bahrain-Merida.
“I think that on the pavé that if Vincenzo wants to attack, we will support him in his effort,” coach and sport director Paolo Slongo told VeloNews.
“It’s a stage where you need to attack and stay up ahead. The small groups will form right away. It will be an advantage for Vincenzo to have these specialists in the race, like Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan. Maybe he can’t win, but if he can stay with them then it’s a good move in the overall.”
From the Arras start town, the stage will travel east to Cambrai, where it will begin following the parcours of the famous Paris-Roubaix monument held every April. The stage will cover 15 sectors and 21.7 kilometers of the cobbles that are often featured in the French classic.
In 2014, Nibali and his former Astana team dominated over the rain-soaked paths. The Sicilian, in a tour de force, gained two minutes on his rivals.
This time, he sits 16th overall and 1:09 behind leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing). Some of his rivals are further up the classification, so the Roubaix stage could be his opportunity to gain back some time.
“We need to see how the course goes and the opportunities that come up,” Nibali explained. “It’s stressful for everyone, a very difficult stage, also it’ll be very important.
“It’s hard to say if we should have these days in the grand tours. I don’t know, because in the grand tours today there is always some difficult day like this. Anyway, a grand tour is always won by a complete rider who rides well from the start until the end.
“I feel good. I’ve only seen the cobbles once in training, but for sure, there are sectors where you need to pay more attention than in the others. Overall, it’s a very difficult stage.”
In Milano-Sanremo this year, Nibali attacked on the Poggio and held off his rivals with a solo ride to Sanremo. After the Italian classic win, he raced in the Tour of Flanders and made an attack that pulled out the eventual winning move by Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors).
For him, unlike other grand tour stars, riding one-day classics and attacking in them seems to come easier.
“We are going to ready to help him,” team boss Brent Copeland said.
“We’ve been preparing the bikes and had all of our men ride the pavé. Nibali previewed it during the Ardennes classics. Haussler went back with our sport director Rik Verbrugghe to see them again ahead of the Tour.
“Nibali’s not worried about it, but he still needs luck on his side that day.”
Added Slongo, “We have Haussler, Koren, and Colbrelli who know how to ride pavé and will be important in the stage for Vincenzo.
“Near him in the pavé, they need to be there for him. The others with need to work early on, and the whole thing will come together.”