Every time Vincenzo Nibali pins a number to his racing jersey, he has ambitions of victory.
That was the response from the Italian climber – and perhaps a subtle warning to his opposition – when asked which races he would target this year.
Even at 34, an age when many might have been thinking of a lighter racing schedule, he seems to have lost little enthusiasm for the sport in which he has already amassed more silverware than most.
“I will run both races,” the Bahrain-Merida rider, one of seven to have won the Grand Tour treble, told In the Bunch after visiting South Africa for the first time at the end of last year for a charity event.
“The first goal will be the Giro and then I’ll start thinking about the Tour.”
Unlike many other Grand Tour protagonists, Nibali is part of a rare breed who can be equally effective in the biggest one-day races and it comes as no surprise that he has made asterisks next to three Monuments on the 2019 calendar.
“I would like to do well at San Remo and Liege, but especially in Lombardy, a race that I really love,” said the four-time Grand Tour winner who stormed to victory in Milan-San Remo last year and Il Lombardia the season before.
And then there is, he admitted, the lure of the rainbow jersey and one last hurrah at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 before hanging up his wheels for good.
Nibali was almost sent into an early retirement last year when he crashed out of the Tour de France after colliding with a fan on stage 12, suffering a fractured vertebra.
“The crash in the Tour de France compromised above all my big goal, which was the World Championships in Austria. It was not easy to recover, I worked a lot and now I can say I’m close to 100 per cent.
He seemingly bears few grudges after the incident that derailed his season and cost him a fair shot at the world title on a Nibali-friendly course that featured a finish eerily similar to the one in Lombardy.
“The French authorities are doing an excellent investigation, but at the moment it is not yet completed,” said the Italian, who was called in by investigators to recite his side of the story. “I wait to know the final results before making a comment.”
He added that while the fans gave the riders “great strength and enthusiasm”, they must respect the riders.
“What happened at the Tour, including smoke bombs, is a bit too much. It is now clear that there must be more security; for example, more men on the route or at least in the most difficult points.
“You can even put more barriers so that the fans can watch the show, but without creating accidents. And probably some fans should be less of a protagonist – crashing because of a selfie is not right.”
Nibali said his lengthy recovery did not affect his build-up and racing plans.
“Together with my trainer Paolo Slongo and the team management we decided my race calendar for 2019 and I’m sure I’ll be 100 per cent.” He is set to open his campaign at the inaugural UAE Tour from February 25 to March 2.
South Africa evidently made a lasting impression on the Shark of Messina.
“The country is very beautiful with incredible landscapes and very good roads for cycling. Too bad it was only two days.”
Equally so, his exploits on the bike and the manner of his victories have left an indelible imprint on the sport.