Vuelta a Espana - Nibali ready for next step
After conquering Spain at the age of 25, Vincenzo Nibali is widely predicted to become the next Giro d'Italia champion in his homeland.
Sunday's Vuelta victory was the biggest in the Sicilian's career and marked another stepping stone for the Liquigas-Doimo rider, who was third in this year's Giro and seventh in the 2009 Tour de France.
Nibali's team mate Ivan Basso is Italy's biggest stage-race rider and won the Giro for the second time this year. When the 32-year-old Basso retires, however, Nibali will be keen to inherit his crown.
"This was a big step forward for me," Nibali told reporters on Saturday after he had effectively sealed the overall win in Spain on the race's last mountain-top finish at Bola del Mundo.
"But the best thing is I still don't know what my upper limit could be."
Born in Messina in 1984, Nibali started to ride a bike aged three, following imaginary racing circuits around his parents' newspaper shop.
A keen and ambitious rider, he even attempted to ride up the Sicilian volcano Mount Etna aged 10 before his parents got wind of his plans and stopped him.
At 16, Nibali headed to Tuscany in northern Italy to race in one of the region's flourishing amateur clubs.
Given the nickname by which he is still known, 'the Shark', by the president of his fan club, Nibali was snapped up by professional team Fassa Bortolo, joining them in 2005.
After a switch to his current team, Liquigas, in 2006, Nibali seemed set for a career in the classic races, taking his first big professional win in one of France's top one-day races, the GP Ouest France, that year.
However, top-20 places in his first two Giro races, in 2007 and 2008, as well as 20th overall in his debut in the 2008 Tour de France, convinced Nibali he should focus on stage racing as well.
This year's Giro gave Nibali his biggest breakthrough, after he replaced Italian team mate Franco Pellizotti five days before the race started.
Nibali made the most of his late substitution, briefly leading the race in the first week.
Even after he lost the lead in a crash, Nibali battled on to take a mountain stage win in Asola after a 40-km lone break. He then finished third overall behind Basso.