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Nibali brings elegance back on top spot

news29.07.2014After the race

© Presse Sports

Vincenzo Nibali couldn't hide his emotion when he read his speech on stage with the Arc de Triomphe behind him. Thanking his family turned him into tears but he managed to finish it off by saying «merci le Tour».

He won the Vuelta a Espana (2010) and the Giro d'Italia (2013) previously, which makes him the sixth cycling champion to do so (after Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Alberto Contador) in nine decades. His record book speaks for him when he's asked to explain how he reached such a high level at the age of 29. He wore the white jersey for a week in his first participation to the Tour de France in 2008. He built his career from there and realized the year after (7th overall) that his physique was suitable for the Grand Tours.

Nibali has all the required skills. In the mountains, he's not only strong uphill, he's also the best downhill rider of his generation. He can time trial pretty well as his first international results showed as a junior and U23. He's got the agility to guide his bike on any kind of terrain, that's how he made his biggest gain in stage 5 on the cobblestones (more than two minutes over all his rivals on GC). He's smart – he proved it in his calculation of how much lead he could allow to the breakaway riders every day he was in the lead (18). He's got pride. He's a Sicilian after all, albeit shy, kind and friendly. He remembered that Chris Horner dethroned him from the first place of the results sheets at the Vuelta last year, although he recalled that he wasn't in his best condition after having won the Giro. The American veteran paid for it as he was brought back by the Maillot Jaune himself when he attacked on the way to Hautacam, the last hill climb of the Tour.

Nibali has completely embraced the notion of prestige at the Tour de France. He had unexpectedly taken the command of the race in a late attack in stage 2 in Sheffield where he even challenged the head wind. He confirmed his domination on the occasion of the first mountain stage at the Planche des belles filles, but for those first two successes, he wore his Astana trade team jersey with a discreet display of the red, white and green Italian colours since he's also the national champion in his year of glory. Something was missing: winning with the yellow jersey. He did it in Chamrousse, in the Alps. Something was still missing: winning with the yellow jersey in the Pyrenees. He did it in Hautacam as he countered Horner.

Nibali might as well have won the time trial if needed. But his lead was already enormous – the biggest in the 21st century so far. Till the end, he rode with professionalism, keeping his feet on the ground. He claimed the 101st Tour de France of which he was not the hot favourite but the third man of the highly expected duel between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. They both crashed and were forced to quit the race. For ever, their potential of regaining the time lost on Nibali will remain hypothetical. But for sure, Nibali is a valuable winner.

He doesn't have the amazing personal history of his three predecessors, Cadel Evans, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, all from the English speaking world with an unconventional background as a mountain biker, a track cyclist or an adventurist on African gravelled roads. Nibali hails from Messina in Sicily. He grew up as a simple kid and a passionate road cyclist, slowly but surely. On the bike, and somehow off the bike too, he's got the elegance that has been missing a little bit on the top spot of the final podium of the world's biggest race.

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