Vincenzo Nibali is well-known as being a rider’s rider. But what does that mean exactly? Well, essentially this means even the best riders in the professional peloton admire the way he rides — and that is an honour you have to earn. The derivation of his nickname says it all: Lo Squalo, or ‘The Shark’. He’s called this because you do not see him until he attacks. And when he does, it’s already too late.
The magic of The Shark
Anyone who watched the Milan-San Remo 2018 understands the magic that Vincenzo Nibali brings to cycling. La Primavera, as the race is affectionately known, is the first Spring Classic of the road racing calendar year. It’s a beautiful race, largely because viewers get to see Italy in the spring. Nine times out of ten this 291-kilometre race is contested by a group of sprinters, who somehow managed to drag their heavy frames over the two final climbs of Cipressa and Poggio and then battle it out at full speed to reach the finish line.
In 2018, Vincenzo Nibali won this race. On paper, he stood little chance: Nibali is not a sprinter, but a climber and Grand Tour winner who also has a decent time trial in his legs. He attacked instinctively on the Poggio climb, which in theory was to defend his team sprinter. But his defence soon switched to an attack and his pure quality as a rider shone through. He won: a climber followed by a screaming pack of sprinters.
This is the beauty of Nibali’s riding style. He is supercool. He hardly even seems to be breathing as he climbs mountains. So what has he won? He has won the Tour of Spain (2010), the Tour de France (2014) and the Tour of Italy, twice, in 2013 and 2016. And, of course, Milan-San Remo in 2018. Nibali was in fourth place on the GC when he was forced to retire from the Tour de France 2018 with a fractured vertebra after a spectator caused him to fall on the iconic Alpe d’Huez climb.
A rider’s rider
Nibali is not the best climber, nor is he the best time trialist, nor sprinter. He is well-know for his capacity to descend faster than almost anyone. He also has certainly more grinta than most riders in the peloton today. (Grinta is a quality defined by cycling aficionados as ‘the unbreakable will to succeed’.) Nibali never gives up. He is tactically gifted. He can read a read a race like no other. We sincerely hope he fully recovers and returns to fight for the honours in the Vuelta a España, the Tour of Spain, in 2018.