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GENT, Belgium (VN) — Power and skills — that is the combination needed to perform at Tour of Flanders, so it should be no surprise that Vincenzo Nibali put together a strong debut race Sunday. Yet even the Italian’s own team manager was stunned by his role in the finale.
Nibali flew the Team Bahrain-Merida flag with a long-range move — which turned out to be the winning one — off the Kruisberg. Doing so in his debut appearance on Flemish roads, he had to elbow his way through every cobbled sector and climb beforehand. Though he failed to match Niki Terpstra’s counter-move at 26km to go, he impressed fans and his Bahrain-Merida team manager.
“We were all pretty surprised how he rode well in this race. It wasn’t expected that he’d be up there making the moves. I expected he’d be OK, but not up there at 30 kilometers to race and making the break,” Bahrain-Merida general manager Brent Copeland told VeloNews.
“He’s a champion, looking at his results you can see that. He goes into everything with the mindset of doing everything right and getting the best he can. He’s not just going to go there to just see what happens. He’s going to do the best possible.”
“Nothing is surprising with Nibali’s bike handling skills. But honestly, I was surprised he was making the winning move!”
Nibali won all three grand tours: the Vuelta a España, the Tour de France, and the Giro d’Italia two times.
Over the years, he has been capable in one-day races. Already he had finished third in Milano-Sanremo 2012 with an attack. And nearly held on with a move to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège that year, finishing second. In Lombardia, Italy’s other monument, he counts two titles in 2015 and 2017.
However, earlier in the year Nibali said that he would need a few years in Flanders before seriously contending.
“I remember what Giancarlo Ferretti told me when I first turned professional with Fassa Bortolo,” Nibali said. “The first two times you race an event, maximum three, you got to see how it is, and then the fourth time, you go to win.”
After the race finished and Nibali looked back at that attack, he said that he wished he would have just stuck with Peter Sagan’s group because he could have fought for a placing. Instead, after Terpstra surged, Nibali’s legs melted and could no longer allow him to stick with the favorites’ group. He finished the day 26th.
The numbers were amazing, though. Trainer Paolo Slongo said that he averaged 250 watts over the 6 hours, 21 minutes. And his attack saw him push 650 watts for 15 seconds. In comparison, in Milano-Sanremo he averaged 187 watts and 700 watts with his Poggio move.
The explanation for the higher average? All those corners and small ramps through the Flanders fields. Milano to Sanremo is mostly straight.
“From the beginning to the end, it was like being in a washing machine,” Nibali said. “The biggest tip came from Heinrich Haussler, an expert, who said not to sprint out of each corner, but sprint into each one.”
Nibali went directly to the Brussels airport to race Vuelta al País Vasco this week to build for the Ardennes classics starting the week after. He will help the Izagirre brothers Gorka and Ion in the Basque Country and then take his turn again with Liège-Bastogne-Liège in two weeks.
“He’s definitely, targeting that Liège-Bastogne-Liège. We have the Izagirre brothers and Giovanni Visconti, but we are going there to race for Vincenzo,” added Copeland. “He’s going there to win.
“His mindset is good. He’s coming out of the winter well, relaxed and serene, all those things put together add up. After our team debuted in 2017 with everything being new, he started 2018 with a more relaxed mindset. That helps. He’s going to go into Liège firing and competitive.
“Flanders? He wants to go back, he loves it. We haven’t got that far yet in scheduling, but he’s excited and enthusiastic about the Flemish monument.”