Barring a disaster for him on French roads from now until Sunday, the man who looks set to win the Tour de France says he understands that cycling is still paying for its longtime doping plague.
Italy's Vincenzo Nibali knows that more than most. Both of cycling's other "Grand Tours" that he has won were marred by doping cases. Last year's Giro d'Italia was tarnished by three positive tests and, in the 2010 Vuelta, Nibali's runner-up, Ezequiel Mosquera, tested positive for a masking agent that can hide blood-booster EPO, long cycling's designer drug.
But on the rest day Monday before the pack heads to the Pyrenees, the serene, talented and methodical 29-year-old Nibali was focusing on the race, saying he wants to make sure he avoids a "crisis" like the crashes that forced out Chris Froome, the 2013 Tour champion, and two-time winner Alberto Contador. In news conferences, he has talked about doping.
"Unfortunately, those questions arise because we're paying [for] the past years. I try to answer in the most correct way, like I already did at the Giro last year," Nibali said after Sunday's Stage 15. "I'm here to give the best answers I can, and clarify everything about myself. I've always been a flag-bearer of anti-doping."
As the race embarks Tuesday on three days in the Pyrenees, Nibali leads Alejandro Valverde, a 34-year-old Spaniard who served a two-year ban after being implicated in a blood-doping ring, by 4 minutes 37 seconds. Romain Bardet is third, 4:50 back, and fellow Frenchman Thibaut Pinot is fourth, 5:06 behind. American Tejay van Garderen is fifth, 5:49 back.
If any of them tries a breakaway in the coming days, expect Nibali and his strong Astana team to lay chase. He'll be keeping close watch in Tuesday's 147.5-mile Stage 16 from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon. It's the longest stage this year and features the punishing Port de Bales climb.