Buon 28° compleanno allo Squalo (Happy 28th birthday to the Shark). It’s been quite a year for Vincenzo Nibali (pronounced: NEE-ba-lee and not Nib-BA-lee). He’s nicknamed the ‘Shark of Messina’ because he originally hails from Sicily, though we affectionately refer to him as ‘Nibbles’. In the space of nine months, he’s experienced three of the five most stressful events: moving house – from Tuscany to Lugano – getting married and changing jobs.
Vincenzo moved as a junior from Sicily to Tuscany to further his cycling development. He finished third in the Junior World Championships time trial in 2002 and third in the same discipline in the under-23 category in 2004. He turned professional the following season with Fassa Bortolo. In 2007, he rode his maiden Giro d’Italia and finished 19th overall. In 2008, that early promise was confirmed with a tenth place in Liege-Basogne-Liege, 11th overall in the Giro and 20th on general classification in his first Tour de France. He’s stated that he’d like to win all three Grand Tours and already has the 2010 Vuelta a Espana in his pocket.
If we look back on his 28th year, we’ll see he hasn’t fared too badly.Vincenzo started the year as runner-up in the Tour of Oman, having won the queen stage. He finished first overall in Tirreno-Adriatico, after winning stage five and the points classification. In March, he finished third in Milan-San Remo, his first podium finish in a monument. He launched a solo attack in Liege-Bastogne-Liege on the descent of the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons and dropped his main challengers with 20km to go, but was overhauled by future teammate Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) within the last kilometre and finished runner-up.
Vincenzo’s that rare beast, a rider who attacks on descents and he’s assumed the mantle from ‘Il Falco’, Paolo Savoldelli, of best descender in the peloton. Here he is giving us a bit of a master class on how to descend hairpin bends:
He demonstrated this skill time and time again this year, most notably in France. Vincenzo skipped his home tour to concentrate on the Tour de France and, after a solid first week, he finished fourth on the first summit finish on stage seven to rise to third in the overall standings, 16 seconds behind leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and six behind defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC). However, he conceded over two minutes to Wiggins in the time trial on stage nine, where he placed eighth, and slipped to fourth overall, behind Wiggins’ teammate Chris Froome. On stage ten, Vincenzo attacked on the descent of the Col du Grand Colombier and linked up with his teammate Peter Sagan, but were eventually caught by the Sky-led peloton.
We then had a spot of handbags at dawn when Vincenzo accused Wiggins of dissing him, prompting another attack on the following stage finishing atop La Toussuire, which moved him up to third overall. He attacked once more on stage 16 on the Col de Peyresourde where he was ultimately caught by the Froome-Wiggins combo and the trio all finished together. Vincenzo lost time to the pair on subsequent stages but retained his third place. Indeed, he was the only non-Sky rider to finish within ten minutes of Wiggins.
He also bagged the Giro di Padania, racked up a total of 400 points and fourth overall position in the UCI WorldTour individual rankings. A very useful points haul that was no doubt appreciated by Astana management. Finally in early October, just a week shy of his wedding, Vincenzo demonstrated his grasp of politics when he finished third behind his new boss in the Jubile Vinokourov in Monaco.
His move to Astana was allegedly agreed early in the year and one assumes it was prompted by a desire for a bigger pay packet [well, he needed to pay for the new house and the wedding – Ed] and a greater leadership role. However, our friends over at Cyclismas had another theory.