As the 2014 Tour de France races toward Paris, Vincenzo Nibali continues to ride in a class of his own. Amid the predictable and spastic cries of “Doper!” from trolls and imbecilli, a case can be made that we are witnessing the work of a true champion. Rather than let the loudest, most negative voice rule the day, we decided to make the case for why we are willing to believe.
We Saw This Coming – Part One
Nibali has been an exceptional talent demonstrating steady progression. Check his palmares, and you’ll find no erratic jumps in performance, just continuous improvement.
We Saw This Coming – Part Two
Nibali targeted the 2014 Tour de France after finishing on the podium in 2012, choosing to race the Giro and Vuelta in 2013 … where he did pretty well. For 2014, only one race truly mattered, the Tour, and he trained accordingly.
Aren’t His Performances Too Good to Be True?
No. Looking at the results stage-by-stage, Nibali’s time gains were marginal. He raced intelligently, using his team well and timing his attacks carefully (reference stage 5). Even with his outstanding form and focus, his stage wins and time gains came in smaller chunks with assorted rivals not extraordinarily far behind.
What About Froome?
It wasn’t looking like Froome’s year. Perhaps the crash in the Criterium du Dauphiné disrupted his rhythm. Maybe he wasn’t quite at the same level as 2013 (or 2012, for that matter). Both Froome and his Sky squad simply did not have the dominant appearance of years past.
Nibali rode like a boss and emerged from the cobbles of stage 5 with a 2:37 lead over Alberto Contador. Given the lumpy course profile of the final time trial, I think it’s safe to say that Contador would have needed to recover that time elsewhere. Looking at the way Nibali performed across all terrain and conditions, erasing that deficit would prove a tall order. While it would have been a fun battle to watch, the advantage remained with Nibali.
But, don’t you think the absence of previous champions lessens Nibali’s victory?
In order to finish first, one must first finish. What if Richie Porte hadn’t had a bad day? What if Alejandro Valverde raced smarter? What if Greg Lemond were 25 years younger or Merckx incarnate descended upon the race? What if blah, blah, blah. All the “What ifs?” may make for entertaining armchair directeur sportif-ing, but they have little bearing on the value of a champion’s accomplishment.
While the credibility of professional cycling certain merits skepticism, epithets and innuendo simply accelerate a race to the bottom. What if the sport is in the midst of rebuilding its integrity, and Nibali’s impending victory is the rightful result of talent, training, teamwork, and timing? If evidence shall be required to support accusations, what is needed to restore credibility?