Still chasing his first win of the year, Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali is returning to French soil eleven months after taking that race, and will begin the Critérium du Dauphiné on Sunday.
“My ramping up programme for the Tour de France is going well, just like I want it to,” the Italian Astana rider said. “I can’t say that I will be 100% fit on the Dauphiné, but I am satisfied with my current form.
“I am riding this race with one simple ambition: give it all I’ve got.”
While Nibali has not been close to his Tour de France-winning form thus far this year, he has shown aggression in numerous races. He’s likely to follow a similar approach in the eight day race, and if the chance arises to grab a morale-boosting victory he will seize it.
He will have plenty of mountains to show his form, with the route including many climbs including the same course as stage 17 of the Tour de France.
The 161 kilometre leg from Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup on Thursday week will enable him to check out those roads. He has already done reconassance of several other stages. “A few of my team mates and I already know the Dutch, Belgian and northern French stages,” he said.
“On the Dauphiné there will be a team time trial that will allow us to get in synch. We will fight flat out because we are a strong and well organized team.”
He will be backed by Astana team-mates Lars Boom, Lieuwe Westra, Andriy Grivko, Dimitri Gruzdev, Michele Scarponi, Rein Taaramäe and Alessandro Vanotti. Many of these are likely to be part of the Tour de France squad, although it is likely that Jakob Fuglsang, who is not riding the Dauphiné, will be also in the longer event.
Nibali doesn’t have pressure of needing to achieve a high result in the Dauphiné, although he will try to do so. Last year he was sixth, eighth and eighth on stages and seventh overall. Not a huge result, but something he was able to build on in time for the tour.
Looking back, he sees that performance as something which was important for him.
“I remember the Dauphiné being a difficult race last year,” he said. “But I also remember it being good because it was the beginning of my racing resurrection and it let me understand where I still needed to improve ahead of the Tour de France that I went on to win.”
That readjustment comprised in part motorpacing drills with his coach Paolo Slongo, rides he used to build his acceleration and explosiveness.
As race organisers ASO point out, ever since 2002 the rider who has worn yellow in Paris at the end of the Tour de France has ridden the Dauphiné as his Tour preparation.
The next few weeks will show if that continues to be the case.