Retirement does not always mean hanging up race cleats and shunning competitiveness. Vincenzo Nibali is back in action, this time on a mountain bike in Absa Cape Epic.
Nibali is not just participating but racing, and after the first three stages of the eight-day endurance test is in seventh place overall with teammate Samuele Porro, a six-time Italian mountain bike champion who was confirmed just a week ago for the pairing in the eight-day mountain bike stage race.
The 18-year veteran ended his road career just a few months ago as one of the most decorated Italian riders to ever ride in the pro peloton, having won all three Grand Tours along the way in addition to titles at Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia. Nibali now serves as a technical consultant for Swiss ProTeam Q36.5 and is using Absa Cape Epic in a dual role to race off-road and provide feedback on team apparel.
“A bit for competition and a bit for fun,” he said before the start in Cape Epic. “As an ambassador for Q36.5, the goal for this project is to test their materials, to put them under stress, in extreme conditions such as racing in high temperatures, but also in dusty, muddy, dirty conditions.”
Porro brings vast experience for the off-road adventure to the Italian duo, as he has raced the South African event five times before, finishing third with Damiano Ferraro in 2016 and 2019.
Four years younger than Nibali at 34, Porro referred to Cape Epic as “the MTB of Le Tour de France” and was excited to announce a partnership with Nibali just a week prior to the race when Nibali’s expected to partner Ivan Santaromita crashed out of the Andalucia Bike Race with a severe contusion on his hand. Nibali then withdrew after the first stage of Andalucia and reset his attention to Cape Epic.
Nibali and Porro finished the opening day prologue in ninth place out of 50 men’s UCI teams, and after a windy stage 1, moved to seventh overall, even after technical issues caused them to lose more minutes to overall leaders, Swiss duo Nino Schurter and Andri Frischknecht for SCOTT-SRAM MTB.
The longest day of the week was stage 2, 116 kilometres, with 2,550 metres of climbing in the hills outside Hermanus over a relentless route into the Akkadisberg and Paardenberg ranges. The duo finished eighth amid warm and dusty conditions on Tuesday and retained seventh overall.
“Today was a very long and hard stage; we rode the whole stage on sandy ground,” Nibali posted to his Instagram feed. “Summer long gloves perform well because they dry very quickly, weigh next to nothing, and the extra protection on the fingertips ensures that my hands are protected, even during a fall.”
Finishing fifth on the stage and now one spot in front of Nibali-Porro in the GC is the Canyon Northwave team, comprised of former WorldTour rider Petr Vakoč, who last raced on the road with Alpecin-Fenix in 2020-2021, and Swiss mountain bike specialist Marc Stutzmann. Another notable duo in the stage race, now in 20th position, is the EF-Easypost: SCB SRAM duo of Australian Lachlan Morton and USA’s Keegan Swenson.
Former Unbound Gravel champion Ian Boswell is riding with Mitchell Docker (Digger and the Doughboy) and leading the amateur men’s category.
Among the notable multi-discipline riders in the women’s peloton in the six-day mountain bike stage race is the second-placed duo of NinetyOne-songo-Specialized, which pairs Sofia Gomez Villafane of Venezuela with Katerina Nash of Czech Republic. They trail the current leaders, South African pair of Amy Wakefield and Candice Lill (Team e-Fort.net : SeattleCoffeeCo), by 5:24 after three days of racing.