Nibali in California. Mystery Shark.
What will the Shark do in California? While Chris Horner (RadioShack Nissan-Trek) and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) openly wonder about the state of Levi Leipheimer’s recovery, nobody knows what kind of form Nibali brings to the race. If Levi is sand-bagging — “playing possum,” as Horner says, then what is Nibali thinking?
His major goal for the year is the Tour de France but there’s nothing wrong with a good result in Cali. First off, American bike company Cannondale has high interest in showing off their high end carbon rigs. Podium means sales. Cannondale and Trek have watched arch rival Specialized win just about every cobbled and Ardennes classic.
Nibali is also still in contract negations with his Liquigas-Cannondale squad. A top three in France probably adds another million to his contract demands but a victory in the Tour of California certainly wouldn’t hurt his bargaining position. Dangerous to put all your chips on France — if a win in California is there for the taking, why not?
Will Nibali take the same approach as Andy Schleck? The Luxembourger always liked California as part of his prep work for Le Tour — at least until new boss Johan Bruyneel came along with the get-tough routine. He never rode for the overall but put in his dig on the climbs like Baldy. Just an engine and leg check before he headed into the final month and his usual second place in France.
This may well be an ideal Tour of California for Nibali. There is no one dominant team like RadioShack last year when they had Horner and Leipheimer as one and two. After three stages Garmin-Barracuda still has Danielson and Talansky is a strong position but Tejay Van Garderen lost his two best climbers, Steve Marabito and Steve Cummings to stage two crashes. Odds are Leipheimer’s not 100% back from a broken femur and anything less isn’t a contender.
We’ll know after the Bakersfield time trial if Niabli has designs on the overall. Right now the Shark has everyone guessing — maybe even himself.