A year after claiming his first Vuelta a España title, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) has confirmed he’ll be throwing his hat back in the ring again and challenging for a second straight win in 2011. However, he recognises this time round it’s going to be a lot harder.

“I’m feeling ambitious and motivated to win,” the 26-year-old Nibali said in a team press release.

“Last year’s win was incredibly difficult, though, and this year it will be even more difficult to repeat that victory.”

“But I’m stubborn and determined. And I’m flanked by a team that’s equally well-prepared so we’ve got everything we need to try and retain this title.”

Third in the Giro – as he was in 2010, his first major Tour podium – Nibali said that a lengthy spell of altitude training in the Passo San Pelligrino in July, racing the Tour of Poland and then the Tre Valle Varesine was the program he needed to get into form, similar – he says – to before last year’s start.

Whilst Nibali’s very limited experience of racing in Spain was a disadvantage last year that obviously no longer exists, he pointed out that he does not know a large number of the climbs again this time round, either, which could be a drawback.

Nibali tipped two of his key rivals last year as favourites again: Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who crashed whilst wearing the leader’s jersey and Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), who only said goodbye to his chances of overall victory in the stage 17 time trial at Peñafiel, where Nibali definitively took over the Vuelta lead four days before winning his first ever Grand Tour.

“Then you’ve got riders like [double Vuelta winner Denis] Menchov (Geox) and [Michele] Scarponi (Lampre) and of course [Bradley] Wiggins (Sky) and [Jurgen] Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto). So there are some first class riders and they’ll make it a fierce race.”

The most interesting addition to Liquigas’ line-up this year compared with the 2010 Vuelta is 21-year-old all-rounder Peter Sagan, making his debut in a Grand Tour.

The winner of the Tour of Poland and of 11 races this season so far, the ultra-versatile Sagan is dangerous in the sprints but he has also took a very difficult mountain stage of the Tour de Suisse this June.

On a personal level, the one big difference for Nibali compared to 2010, perhaps, is that apart from going into the Vuelta knowing he has the measure of the race and what it takes to win a Grand Tour, so far he has not taken a single win this season.

The last time Nibali didn’t take at least one victory was back in 2005, the year when he turned pro with Fassa Bortolo, although he did get second in one stage of the Tour de Suisse.

In 2010, his most successful year to date, Nibali was winning as early as the Tour of San Luis in February and came to the Vuelta – where, curiously, he did not win a stage – with a victory in a Giro stage as well as the Trofeo Melinda one-day race. So when it comes to the Vuelta, then, the man they nickname the ‘Shark of the Strait’ will be hungry for a first place or two.

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