CARCASSONNE, France — Barring a disaster for him on French roads from now until Sunday, the man who looks set to win the Tour de France said he understands that cycling is still paying for its longtime doping plague.
Vincenzo Nibali of Italy knows that more than many. Both of cycling’s other “Grand Tours” he already has won were marred by doping cases. Last year’s Giro d’Italia was tarnished by three positive tests. In the 2010 Vuelta, Nibali’s runner-up, Ezequiel Mosquera, later tested positive for a masking agent that can hide blood-booster EPO – long cycling’s designer drug.
But on the rest day Monday before the pack heads to the Pyrenees, the serene, talented and methodical 29-year-old Italian was focusing on the race, saying he wants to make sure he avoids a “crisis” like the crashes that forced out two rivals – the 2013 Tour champ, Chris Froome, and a two-time winner, Alberto Contador. In post-stage news conferences, he confidently has fielded questions about doping.
“Unfortunately, those questions arise because we’re paying (for) the past years. I try to answer in the most correct way, like I did at the Giro last year,” Nibali said Sunday. “I’m here to give the best answers I can and clarify everything about myself.”
“I’ve always been a flag-bearer of anti-doping.”
As the race embarks Tuesday on three days in the Pyrenees mountains, Nibali leads Alejandro Valverde – a 34-year-old Spaniard who once served a two-year ban after being implicated in a blood-doping ring – by 4 minutes, 37 seconds. Romain Bardet is third, 4:50 back, and a fellow Frenchman, Thibaut Pinot is fourth, 5:06 behind. American Tejay van Garderen is fifth, 5:49 back.