When you’ve been an icon of top-class cycling and announce your retirement from professional racing, there is no better place than the climbs of the Giro d’Italia to say your final goodbye to your admirers.
For the crowds, the mountain roads were the perfect backdrop for the Sicilian champion‘s swansong because everyone knows that this is where cycling legends are born; this is where the hero comes so close that his fans can touch him.
Vincenzo Nibali‘s crossing of Monterovere along the Kaiserjägerstraße, the ascent that enthusiasts have nicknamed “The Menador”, and the final climb to Passo Fedaia were both resounding triumphs with the public.
“There was tremendous cheering for everyone – for expert racers with long lists of victories under their belts as well as for the new cycling wonders. But as soon as people spotted Nibali‘s pale blue kit, the cheers turned into a genuine ovation. The shouting was deafening. It was the public’s huge thank you for all the unforgettable moments of his career”.
That ovation contained the absolute gratitude of all the fans for appearing with his arms raised to the sky, wearing the pink jersey, through the fog and storm on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo at the end of the 20th stage of the 2013 Giro d’Italia, as well as for the thrilling final comeback at the Giro in 2016, between Risoul and Sant’Anna di Vinadio.
And this is just for the Pink Race, not counting the roads of the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, which could tell even more incredible tales of success.
But, despite his unique record of achievements compared to the other participants of the Giro d’Italia 2022, Vincenzo Nibali agonisingly battled it out for 3,446 km and 50,000 m of positive elevation change, which made the latest edition one of the toughest in the Giro’s recent history.
A final 4th place in the general classification went way beyond even the rosiest expectations of insiders and makes perfectly plausible the roaring ovations when Vincenzo appeared in the natural arenas that form on the days that the Giro convoy winds its way through the mountain roads.
It also gives a sense to the incredulous murmuring of the young folks – and of those who were young quite some time ago – at the passing on the saddle of his bike of the champion dressed in pale blue: “Nibali came this close to me! I swear. Nibali was this close!”.
Those incredulous and grateful eyes are the greatest tribute to a true champion and to what competitive cycling continues to represent.