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The clock is ticking on Vincenzo Nibali‘s career, but he’s not calling time just yet.
The Sicilian veteran came away from 2020 without a result to shout about: His ride to seventh overall at the Giro d’Italia put a stopper on a fallow year and broke a long streak of harvesting at least one grand tour podium or monument victory every season.
Nibali turned 36 on November 14th and has one year remaining on his contract with Trek-Segafredo.
With a generation of youthful stars on the rise and a disappointing season fresh in the memory, “The Shark” insists age is no object as he heads into what could be a make-or-break 2021.
“It was an open-ended year, so strange that I wouldn’t take it as being a completely reliable indication,” Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport this week. “The Giro didn’t go according to expectations, there’s no doubt about that. The young riders coped better with a season that was like that, not just in cycling.”
Nibali will be blowing out the birthday candles – all 36 of them – on Saturday, but his spark has not burned out yet. The Trek-Segafredo captain views his anonymous 15th year in the pro peloton as just a flicker in a flame that has seen him emerge as one of the most versatile riders in the bunch and a threatening figure in most GC battles.
“That’s not so old that you should be cast aside, despite what the keyboard warriors might write,” Nibali said when asked about his birthday.
“For years, whenever I’ve targeted a grand tour, I’ve been in the fight for the top positions. A bad year can happen – in fact, there are those who have more of them than me … Nobody has ever gifted me anything. As recently as 2019, I was second at the Giro, between [Richard] Carapaz and [Primoz] Roglič, who confirmed their quality at the Vuelta this year.”
With Nibali refusing to bow to a generation of GC stars 10 years his junior, Trek-Segafredo continues to pile confidence into its Sicilian leader going into 2021.
“The dedication that we have seen in this Giro must be the push to relaunch in the coming season,” team boss Luca Guercilena said after the Giro. “And Vincenzo Nibali, with his talent, determination, and professionalism, will undoubtedly be a fundamental element for our restart.”
However, another dry season in 2021 could see “The Shark of Messina” without a contract and perhaps cast aside as teams invest in a seemingly never-ending swell of youthful talents. Of those that placed above Nibali at the Giro, three of them – João Almeida, Jai Hindley, and Tao Geoghegan Hart – were aged 25 or younger.
Though the Sicilian said he is taking long-term career considerations “day by day,” it could be his performance in the next 12 months to decide his future for him.
The birthday boy told Gazzetta he has not yet mapped out a race schedule for next year, but having long-dreamt of Olympic gold, the Tokyo Games are more than likely to feature. A medal next summer could prove decisive in whether Nibali is forced into blowing out the candle on his career in 12 months’ time.