He came, he smiled and took some selfies with fans, he stood on a podium and he left: Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) paid a lightning-fast visit to the Liège-Bastogne-Liège presentation on Saturday, but it was enough to garner the Sicilian some of the biggest cheers of all from the fans present and to remind his rivals that on Sunday, the Shark Of Messina will once again be on the prowl.
Last Wednesday, Nibali’s attack over the first of three ascents of the Mur effectively lit the touch paper for a series of challenges to Alejandro Valverde’s domination, and his long breakaway was instrumental in the wearing down process of the Movistar Team as well.
Nibali was caught at the foot of the final ascent of the Mur, but combined with his stunning victory in Milano-Sanremo, his high profile attack at the Tour of Flanders and his long history of Classics success, nobody is ruling out an even more sustained, dangerous attack by the Italian on Sunday.
And Nibali received the warmest of welcomes from the crowds at Saturday’s team presentation, too. This could well be because Liège’s Italian connections are more than well established, both as a city and a race. Until very recently, Liège has had a centuries-old tradition of Italians migrating there to work in its industries, and the climb to Saint-Nicolas has long been nicknamed ‘the Italian corner’ because of the number of Nibali’s compatriots who have settled in that part of Liege.
Nibali’s relationship with Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a lengthy and intense one too, with 2018 his 13th participation. As he recounted in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday, Liège was the first Monument he took part in and he was dropped on the Haut Levée climb, getting so tired in the process that he said, “my ears were dragging along the ground.” He finally finished the race but in 113th position, dead last on the day.
In 2012, though, Nibali was almost at the opposite end of the results sheet when he launched a dangerous late attack. He was caught and passed by Maxim Iglinskiy on the drag towards the finish in Ans, however, with the Italian finally settling for second. And although Nibali says that losing to Iglinskiy was a defeat that “still burns”, it was also an indicator of what he was capable of doing in a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
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