BESANCON France (Reuters) - Vincenzo Nibali already has a decent set of Tour de France leader’s yellow jerseys, but he has one put one aside for Marco Pantani’s mother.
Should he prevail on the French roads, Nibali would become the first Italian rider to win the race since the late Pantani, the 1998 winner who died of a cocaine overdose 10 years ago.
“In spite of what happened to him, I would be very proud to succeed Pantani,” Nibali told reporters in a hotel car park on the first rest day of the Tour, which he leads with a 2:23 advantage over Australian Richie Porte.
Spain’s Alejandro Valverde is third, 2:47 off the pace, after compatriot Alberto Contador, twice a Tour winner, crashed out of the race on Monday.
“Pantani’s mother had offered me one of his yellow jerseys so if I win this Tour I will bring one of my yellow jerseys to her,” said Nibali.
The Italian, who is a great connoisseur of his sport’s history (“I can talk to you about Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi, but also about Bernard Hinault and Louison Bobet,” he says), knows that the road to Paris is treacherous.
Although the Astana rider believes the hardest stage was Monday’s trek to La Planche des Belles Filles, which he won to reclaim the yellow jersey, several traps lie ahead.
“The Tour seems easy now but it’s when everything looks easy that it becomes the most difficult,” he said.
“There are several riders who lie in wait,” Nibali said, citing Valverde and Porte.
Frenchmen Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot are fourth and sixth respectively with a credible chance of a podium finish and possibly better, according to Nibali.
“We saw it with (Michal) Kwiatkowski yesterday, he went from afar and quickly opened a four-minute gap,” said Nibali.
“We will not make the mistake of underestimating anyone. I made that mistake once, it was in the Vuelta last year and (Chris) Horner won.”
His quest to become the sixth man to win all three grand tours continues on Wednesday with the 11th stage, a 187.5-km ride to Oyonnax featuring four short categorized climbs in the last 50 kilometers.
Only Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil, Contador, Belgian Eddy Merckx and fellow Italian Felice Gimondi have won the Tour, the Vuelta and the Giro.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Tony Goodson