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With Chris Froome (Sky) not defending his the Vuelta a España title, the honor of the No. 1 start bib goes to Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
Race organizers said the 2010 Vuelta winner warrants the start number despite seeing three other overall Vuelta winners on the start list.
“He deserves the No. 1 bib,” said Vuelta director Javier Guillén. “He’s an elegant racer, combative and charismatic. Few active riders have such a brilliant palmares as Nibali does.”
Nibali’s presence at the Vuelta is a boon for the race. With defending champion Froome and Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas both racing at the Tour of Britain, the Vuelta welcomes Nibali’s star power. [related title=”More Vuelta news” align=”right” tag=”Vuelta-a-Espana”]
Nibali crashed out of the 2018 Tour when a fan knocked him off his bike near the top of Alpe d’Huez. A heavy back injury meant Nibali was touch-and-go for the Vuelta, but he hopes to use the race to hone his form ahead of the UCI world championships in Austria at the end of September.
“It’s difficult to think of the overall as I am still in my recovery phase and I have just a few days of training in my legs,” Nibali said. “A successful Vuelta for me would mean to be a protagonist in some key stages.”
Nibali won the Vuelta in 2010 in what was his first of four grand tour titles. As one of the few riders who have won all three grand tours, Nibali also counts the 2014 Tour and the 2013 and 2016 editions of the Giro on his palmares.
Other Vuelta winners expected to start Saturday in Málaga include Movistar’s Nairo Quintana (2016) and Alejandro Valverde (2009) and UAE-Emirates’ Fabio Aru (2015).
Nibali was second last year to Froome and second to Chris Horner in 2013.
“The 2010 Vuelta victory was the turning point of my career,” Nibali said. “I’ve always enjoyed racing in Spain. There is less pressure than the Giro and Tour, and the pace of the day reminds me a bit of southern Italy.”
With an eye on the rainbow jersey in September, Nibali won’t be on siesta mode even if he admits he won’t be fighting for the overall.