Vincenzo Nibali withdrew from the Tour of Lombardy: Goodbye, “Shark of Messina”

Sitting on the flight of stairs leading to the team’s presentation podium, under the Bergamo morning sun, Alejandro Valverde waits in silence. Il Lombardia will start in a few moments and the Movistar veteran is about to give his last pedal strokes as a professional driver. He fidgets silently with his socks. He has already been greeted by the speaker of the act, his enormous list of winners and his withdrawal in a few hours.

The Spanish could go to the starting line, where the rest of the peloton rushes. But the organization of the Tour of Lombardy asked him to wait and, naturally, he lends himself to the game. At the podium, we salute “bib number 31, winner of the three Grand Tours, of Milan-Sanremo, Tirreno-Adriatico and of course two Lombardia, Vincenzo Nibali“Valverde’s applause mixes with that of the tifosi crowded in front of the Church of Santos Bartolomeo and Stefano”.Thank you Vicenzo!“, we scream. “Great !Valverde joins him on stage for one last joint photo at his most beautiful champions gala.

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The two stars, whose farewell tours were the main threads of the 2022 season, march together towards the beginning. They make their way through the crowd, first the fans, then their fellow travelers, who have reserved an honor guard for them. Valverde and Nibali were already entitled to this honor when the last Vuelta arrived. The Spanish was then held in Madrid. On Saturday, in northern Italy, it was time to greet the Messina Shark, visibly excited.

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It was a very special day, very emotional.“, Nibali confided after joining Como and its lake, at the edge of which he raised his arms in 2015 and 2017.”From start to finish it was a spectacular parade with a huge crowd showing me their love. There were many small children, girls. When you run in Italy and meet such an audience, you can only be happy.

Throughout the day, the Shark of Messina was full of eyes and ears. The legs also turned well, before giving way on the slopes of Civiglio, about twenty kilometers from the finish line (he finished 24th). “It didn’t take much to really be 100% and do a little more., he conceded. But I am very happy.”

Like Valverde (6th), Nibali was offered a start from the front. Now also a double winner in Lombardy, Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) did not fail to greet his glorious elders: “It was going fast, we didn’t have time to talk! But I saw it when the final was approaching, it looked good, the same for Valverde. I feel lucky to have shared the road with them. These are two great champions who will obviously be missed in cycling..”

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The Grand Tours and the classics: “legendary”

Turned into a cyclist late in life, David de la Cruz did not know the trajectory of a “fuoriclasse” (an “out of class” talent that splashes) but he knows a ray of it. “I had the opportunity to support great champions like Pogacar, Chris Froome, Egan Bernal…“, rejoices the Catalan winner of the double stage in Paris-Nice.

Among all these champions, Vincenzo is the most complete rider for his record. He won the Grand Tours but also Monuments like Lombardy and especially Sanremo, which is within the reach of very few cyclists. And he was very close to winning the Olympics before he fell in Rio.”

Lots of people came for him today, just look around the bus“, observes De la Cruz, surrounded by dozens of tifosi. Among them, Carlo was just 6 years old when Nibali turned professional with Fassa Bortolo in 2005. The team disappeared at the end of the year, the young Italian to Liquigas, where he quickly achieved his first feat at the Plouay Grand Prix, won at the age of 21 ahead of Juan Antonio Flecha His first Grand Tour, the Vuelta, would follow in 2010.

Carlo, a Milanese who arrived in Como with the Astana shirt crossed out with the green-white-red tricolor, has distant memories. He was especially marked by the conquests of Nibali with the Kazakh colors, which he wore for the first time between 2013 and 2016, before returning this year, after his time in Bahrain and the Trek-Segafredo. “The most beautiful is the victory in the Tre Cime de Lavaredo with the Maglia Rosa (20th stage of the Giro 2013)“, he assures. “And the 2014 Tour, on the cobblestones, in the mountains… And Sanremo… Legendary.”

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It’s the first time I’ve really gone to the end of the story with a champion.

Joining Astana this season has allowed De la Cruz”understand why it is called ‘lo Squalo’. Even when he’s not well, if Vincenzo smells blood, like a shark, he comes to life. Even if he is not in the best condition, if he sees the slightest chance to make a result, he goes there. He is a great champion and it is a great pride for me to share his last season..”

For sports director Giuseppe Martinelli, the symbolism is even stronger. “It’s the first time I’ve really gone to the end of the story with a champion.“, explains this emblematic actor of transalpine cycling at 67 years of age”.The others (Chiappucci, Bontempi, Pantani, Cunego, Aru…), many times were born with me, won with me, but went to other teams. Vincenzo wanted to finish Astana and that makes me happy but also very proud.”

Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali

Credit: AFP

The race finished half an hour ago and Martinelli waits patiently for his disciple, honored on the Il Lombardia podium before discreetly retiring. “We have known for six months that this day would come.“recalls the sports director. “But we always tell ourselves that there is still a long way to go… And, in fact, it is approaching very fast. For me, it really hit home today that I was closing a very important chapter, even a book. I didn’t expect something so big at first.”

After the public tributes, the couple had planned to share a glass of wine in the evening before heading home. Which one said “grazie” to the other?

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