The 100th Giro d’Italia arrives on the island of Sicily for two days of racing Tuesday and Wednesday when the race will pay homage to one of its greatest contemporary actors: Vincenzo Nibali. Stage 4 tackles the much-awaited Mount Etna, but stage 5 finishes in the coastal town of Messina, a very deliberate nod to Nibali, a two-time Giro winner and the race’s defending champion. It was here that the Italian spent his formative years. It was here where he first fostered his love for cycling before leaving home at the age of 16 to ride for an elite amateur squad in Tuscany. And it was here in Messina, on the sidewalk in front of his parent’s video and stationary store, the Cine Visual Nibali, where a young Vincenzo took his first tentative pedal strokes. Peloton Magazine spoke with Nibali earlier this season, when he talked about his memories of Sicily and his thoughts on the 100th Giro. Here are some highlights from the feature story in our upcoming Italian issue.

Words and Images by James Startt, European Associate to Peloton

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Peloton Magazine: Vincenzo, what do you remember about growing up in Messina?

Vincenzo Nibali: Oh, I’d go out every day with my cousins to play. I was never much for contact sports, but loved the speed of cycling and I loved the way I could escape on my bike. At first it took me out of Messina, to go to the beach or climb up hills behind the city. And then later it would take me out of Sicily and around the world. The only flat road is along the coast, but it is limiting. Also, I used to do a lot of deliveries for my parents from the shop. And there too I was often climbing. But it didn’t matter. For me just going on deliveries was fun. I was on my bike.

Peloton: Although you won the Tour de France in 2014, you are one of the rare riders that is not fixated on that grand tour and you change your race schedule every year.

Nibali: I don’t like such a linear approach to the sport. I like change. All three [grand tours] are hard. Probably for me, as an Italian, the Giro d’Italia is the hardest, because there is just a whole added level of stress. In terms of fatigue, however, I would say the Tour de France is the hardest, because it comes in the middle of the season. You are not fresh like in the beginning of the season. But the Vuelta has its own challenge—that of staying focused. It comes at the end of the season, so in your head you are thinking that the season is nearly over. But you still have three weeks of racing.

While Nibali has won all three grand tours, he insists that each is difficult in its own right.

Peloton: Well, there seemed to be little doubt that you would be at the start of the 100th Giro this year?

Nibali: The Giro is just such an important race for us Italians and for Italy. The history of the Giro is so linked with the history of Italy.

Peloton: One of the features of this year’s race is the return to your native Sicily and the much-anticipated climb up the Mount Etna. It’s a climb that I imagine you know well?

Nibali: Yeah, there are five different ways to climb Etna and the Giro organizers chose the hardest. Sometimes there are pitches of 20 percent. I can tell you it will explode the race. That said, it won’t be the deciding factor in the race. There will be many deciding factors in the race, but for me, the hardest stage will definitely be the day we climb the Stelvio. It will be the highest climb in the race and we are doing it twice. The Stelvio is one of the highest and hardest climbs in the world. It can make you dizzy. So many riders have built their reputation on this climb. It’s going to be huge!

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