Vincenzo Nibali: ‘The Shark of Messina’ ahead of his Astana Return

Vincenzo Nibali is one of only seven cyclists to win all three Grand Tours. He’s added three monuments to his palmares, making him one the most decorated riders of his generation.

The Shark of Messina’.

Few cyclists are branded with a nickname that cites such a ferocious creature, but Vincenzo Nibali is fully deserving of the label. ‘The Shark’ illustrates Nibali's unrelenting, offensive racing style, whereas Messina refers to Nibali's place of birth — a harbour city in northeast Sicily.

Nibali turns 37 in November 2021 and is writing the final chapters of his racing career. Although The Shark’s teeth have perhaps become slightly blunter in recent years, his attacking nature hasn't ceased. After two seasons with Trek-Segafredo, Nibali will rejoin Astana in 2022. We remember some of Vincenzo Nibali's finest moments, which have enabled him to become one of the most decorated riders of his generation.

Vincenzo Nibali AstanaImage credit: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix

One of Nibali’s finest achievements is his Grand Tour triple. Only seven riders in the sport’s history have won all three Grand Tours across their career. Nibali became the sixth rider to achieve the feat in 2014, when his Tour de France victory completed the set. 

Nibali's prowess on the cobblestones enabled him to finish third on stage 5, where he laid the foundations for a dominant general classification victory. After gaining the yellow jersey on stage 2, Nibali only lent the maillot jaune to Tony Gallopin on stage 10. Nibali dominated the Tour de France, winning by more than seven minutes — the largest winning margin since 1997.

Although his Tour victory was so commanding, a key weapon in Nibali's arsenal is his scrappy never-say-die attitude over three-week races. This was on display at the 2016 Giro d’Italia.

With just three stages remaining, Nibali sat fourth in the general classification and almost five minutes behind the race leader, Steven Kruijswijk. However, Kruijswijk clattered the snow covered roadside on the descent of the Colle dell'Agnello, whilst Nibali showed grit to win stage 19 solo in Risoul. Kruijswijk rolled across the line five minutes down, and suddenly, Nibali was 44 seconds behind the new maglia rosa, Esteban Chaves.

The 4,500 climbing metres on stage 20 provided Nibali with one final opportunity, and that’s all he needed. The Shark made his move on the Colle della Lombarda, dispatching Chaves with 12km left to claim his second pink jersey.

Related - The Most Dramatic Giro d'Italia Finishes

Nibali Tour de FranceNibali wins stage 2 of the Tour de France in Sheffield, 2014. (Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)

Throughout his career, Vincenzo Nibali has gained a reputation as one of the most technically sound and daring descenders in the peloton. Nibali is a three-time monument winner, and owes much of his one-day success to his descending attributes.

Prior to the 2018 edition of Milan-Sanremo, Nibali had only finished in the top ten twice in ten appearances. An attack on the Poggio gave him a slender lead over the chasing peloton before the highly technical descent into Sanremo. The descent is short, but its frequent switchbacks allow the most capable descenders to gain a significant advantage. Nibali kept the chasing sprinters at bay, allowing him to sit up with 100 metres remaining to celebrate his first Milan-Sanremo victory.

Three years earlier, Nibali entered Il Lombardia with 27 monument starts, but no victories to his name. A reduced group crested the Civiglio with 18km remaining, where Nibali attacked. Nibali’s descent was flawless. Upon arriving in Como at the foot of the climb, he had opened up a 30-second lead on the chasers, even though he narrowly avoided an awry moto on the way down.

Vincenzo Nibali Bahrain MeridaNibali wins stage 20 of the Tour de France in 2019 (Image credit: Alex Broadway/ASO/SWpix)

Nibali joined Trek-Segafredo in 2020. However, his wins dried up and he experienced his first winless season for fifteen years. Finally, the Shark picked up his first victory with the team at the Tour of Sicily in October 2021.

After a two-year stint with Trek, Nibali returns to Astana in 2022. He won three Grand Tours and his first monument during his first spell with the team.

On his return to the Kazakh outfit, Nibali said, “I am very happy to come back to Team Astana, because for me it is a real family that has given me a lot and together with which I have achieved my greatest successes. I know most of the management and staff of the team, so I will return to the team I know really well.”

Team Manager Alexandr Vinokurov added, "I believe that Vincenzo has not said yet his last word in cycling, so in some races we can still rely on him as the leader of the team to achieve new successes together again."

Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix

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