As rivalries go Nibali v Froome is a slow burner.
Nibali won the 2013 Giro d’Italia convincingly – a display of strength and control in the wind, rain, snow and fog, which confirmed his place on the top table of Grand Tour contenders. He started the race as the home favourite, and taking on the pressure and a punishing parcours he never look like anything other than a convincing winner.
Then came Froome’s turn at the Tour de France. He dominated comprehensively (in the absence of Nibali) and gave a good impression of a man operating on a different plane to the rest. Froome is the current top dog.
And now it’s Nibali’s chance to lay down another marker. He goes into this years Vuelta Espana as most people’s favourite to take victory, and with it his second Grand Tour title of the year; a serious achievement in it’s own right.
But this all feels like the opening skirmishes in what could build into a lasting battle for supremacy – the phoney war before they take each other on head to head in the World Championships in Florence in September and then, surely, at the Tour de France in 2014.
How Nibali and Froome match up over the next 12 months and beyond will be career defining for both of them. Nibali must continue to compete with, and beat Froome, to prove he is not just very good but truly great. On the other hand, while Froome gives the impression of being on his way to greatness, he is certainly not there yet; Nibali may just prove to be his biggest obstacle along that path.
Lets not forget that Nibali inflicted Froome’s only significant defeat in the run up to the Tour de France in 2013 at Tirenno-Adriatico in March. In winning the Giro and, who knows, the Vuelta too, Nibali will have done all he can to convince that he is the Briton’s equal in 2013. Head to head in next years Tour de France is the inevitable next step.
At age 28, both riders are surely about to reach their prime as Grand Tour riders, and in their careers to date there is little to choose between them. Froome’s Tour de France win is of course the ultimate achievement, and he also has significant overall wins to his name in the Tour of Oman, the Criterium International, the Dauphine and the Tour de Romandie.
Nibali is of course a two-time Grand Tour winner, having won the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta Espana, and has also won Tirreno-Adriatico twice and a number of more minor stage races. The Italian also has a handful of impressive results in the Spring Classics including 2nd at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and 3rd at Milan-San Remo.
It’s easy to imagine either of them adding to their tally of Grand Tours, but if one or the other can get the upper hand in the Tour de France in the next few years, they have the chance to write their name into the record books as the true Alpha male of the current generation.
Few could argue that this rivalry would not be good for cycling; Nibali v Froome with a supporting cast of Contador, Quintana, van Garderen, Porte and the rest would make for a better spectacle than Chris Froome – or Vincenzo Nibali for that matter – sweeping all before them.
This could just be the start of something special.