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The stats don't lie, Vincenzo Nibali is the greatest rider of his generation

Joe Robinson
19 Mar 2018

Victory at Milan-San Remo means the Shark of Messina has joined an exclusive club within cycling

Victory at Milan-San Remo last Saturday confirmed Vincenzo Nibali as one of the great all-time cyclists. Some, like myself, had already afforded him this plaudit but this latest win on the Via Roma should quash any remaining doubters.

Seizing his moment as the race climbed the Poggio, Nibali attacked alongside the young Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy). Catching the bunch napping, a gap grew before the Sicilian crested the climb.

In his most natural habitat, Nibali descended down onto the coastal road, not affording himself a second to look back. It looked as 33-year-old's dream was going to be crushed as the peloton began to bear down in the last few kilometres.

However, a heroic effort saw the Shark of Messina cross the line, arms aloft, holding off a charging peloton of sprinters by one second, creating history in the process.

Regardless of whether the Italian achieves any of his season's remaining goals - Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Tour de France and World Championships - victory at San Remo has confirmed Vincenzo Nibali to be the rider of his generation.

What does victory at Milan-San Remo tell us about Nibali as a rider?

Nibali managed to hold off the charging peloton led by Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott)

Nibali is a pure, thoroughbred racer. At 65kg, he's built to climb, hence his previous victories at all three Grand Tours and Il Lombardia. Yet, thanks to an innate ability to read a race, the Italian was able to craft a win against all odds.

His move to follow Neilands was smart. With teammate Heinrich Haussler on his wheel, he was afforded valuable seconds to get a march on the peloton before they could react while Haussler gave up the chase. 

Nibali also proved with this victory that if you don't succeed on the first occasion, that you should always try again. This was the fourth time in his career that Nibali has attacked on the Poggio, with the three previous digs amounting to nothing. This time it finally did.

Last year's winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) is not a pure sprinter but can go fast when asked, outsprinting Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) proved that. Before the Pole, it was Arnaud Demare and John Degenkolb who are certainly heavyweight sprinters.

By taking San Remo, Nibali proved he can manufacture a race-winning move despite the parcours not suiting his abilities. The Poggio is not hard enough for a rider to race clear of the charging peloton and there is enough road at the bottom of the climb to get caught. 

But, somehow, Nibali managed to make his attack pay off and took the win despite nobody expecting him to do so.

The addition of Milan-San Remo has wedged Nibali's career palmares into a bracket above, placing him in very unique and coveted company. 

Nibali is no stranger to the top step of a podium

Nibali joins two of the greats, Eddy Merckx and Felice Gimondi, in being the only riders to have won all three Grand Tours and Milan-San Remo.

Nibali also joins Merckx, Gimondi and Bernard Hinault as the fourth rider to win these three Grand Tours and two or more Monuments.

Nibali also became the first Grand Tour winner to go on to success in Milan-San Remo since Sean Kelly in 1992. The same year that we last saw a rider win the the first Monument of the year after taking the last Monument, Il Lombardia, of the previous season. 

Victory at San Remo also adds a smoothness to the edges of his palmares. Reserved as the sprinters' classic, Nibali's win at 'La Classicissima' helps present a palmares that is more familiar to riders of yesteryear. 

Seldom do we see racers win outside of their comfort zone any more. Chris Froome (Team Sky) has never been at the sharp end of Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders while a quick man like Sagan is not challenging for Grand Tour glory.

While we have to respect that cycling is a different beast now thanks to more calculated team tactics, riders focusing on less races and quite clearly the demise of drugs in the sport, Nibali's achievements set him apart from his peers.

No other rider in the current peloton can boast the range of victories Nibali has to his name.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) can boast the same success over one-day as Nibali, but with only victory at the Vuelta a Espana, cannot claim the same ability to win over three-weeks. While other one-day specialists of recent years such as Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Cancellara never ventured into the world of GC riding.

Froome's four Tour victories and Vuelta title are impressive yet he can only count the Anatomic Jock Race in terms of one-day victories.

Similarly, the recently retired Alberto Contador was a great stage racer with seven Grand Tours but only counted Milano-Torino as a one-day success.

Successful every year

What's more, Vincenzo Nibali has won either a Monument or Grand Tour every year since 2013. Of the last six Grand Tours he has finished, he has placed within the top four on five occasions, winning two.

As for the last five Monuments he has raced, he has won three. 

At 33-years-old, it will not be long until time is called at the bar for Nibali's career and we will all look in hindsight at the career of the Sicilian which has brought so much success.

Nibali is one of cycling's great all-time riders and should rightfully be seen as the greatest rider of his generation.

Vincenzo Nibali's career highlights

2005 - Turns professional with Fassa Bortolo
2006 - Joins Liquigas. Takes first major victory at GP Ouest-France
2010 - Acheives his first Grand Tour podium at Giro d'Italia before winning the Vuelta a Espana
2011 - Finishes second at the Giro with top 10s at Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege
2012 - Takes podium finishes at the Tour de France, Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege
2013 - Joins Astana. Wins Giro d'Italia before second place at Vuelta a Espana
2014 - Wins Tour de France by over seven minutes while Italian National Champion
2015 - Wins second National title. Finishes fourth at the Tour before winning first Monument of career at Il Lombardia
2016 - Battles back to win second career Giro d'Italia
2017 - Finishes on the podium of the Giro and Vuelta before winning second Il Lombardia
2018 - Takes third Monument with victory at Milan-San Remo