Bahrain Merida will race as one of the 18 WorldTour teams in 2017 with star Vincenzo Nibali.
Nibali, who became the sixth ever winner of all three Grand Tours and joined an elite group containing iconic names such as Jacques Anquetil, Alberto Contador, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx, has no doubt he can extend his legacy with Bahrain Merida.
“It’s very simple. Bahrain have one World Tour team. The team was formed to do Grand Tour races and it has Grand Tour riders,” Nibali said at the team’s launch.
“Not only Grand Tours but we have good young riders. We have many stage riders, time trial riders and sprinters. It’s a great mix of riders.”
Despite severing ties with giants Astana after four successful years in the off-season, Nibali revealed the seeds for joining a Bahrain-based World Tour team were actually sewn during a leisurely bike ride with Sheikh Nasser in 2015.
“I came to Dubai in January 2015 (for the Dubai Tour) and came to Bahrain before it and had a ride with Sheikh Nasser,” said Nibali. “It was a nice afternoon and he’s a big cycling fan. We talked then about a team and now it is a reality. For people here it’s a dream.”
Nibali could have easily turned away from the prince and stayed with Fabio Aru in team Astana or accepted the offer to join Trek-Segafredo.
“I like to take the hard way! The important thing is that here I could decide on the people who were going to work at my side: my trainer Paolo Slongo, some team-mates, my brother Antonio. It’s very different than Astana, with a different mentality, but I wasn’t bad off in Astana, not at all.”
Nibali will race to defend his title in the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia.
“The responsibilities on my shoulders don’t change much. In the last years, I was the one who had the most attention on his shoulders,” he said. “Also if I had gone to a different team, my role wouldn’t change. It’s always been the same role that they’ve given me.”
“It’s not going to be easy to win. I have many riders to overcome,” added Nibali. “Quintana is one of the strongest men in the mountains. I’ll need to keep an eye on him if he comes. He wasn’t super in the 2016 Tour, but he was truly impressive in the Vuelta. But which Quintana will race?
“It’s a special year, but with the atmosphere that we’ve created in the team, we can all work well and in harmony.”