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  • nibali-innovation-museum

    Last week we met up with the greatest Italian rider of his generation, Vincenzo Nibali, at his house in Lugano to have a chat about one of our shared favourite topics of discussion: the perfect choice and preparation of technical cycling equipment for racing. The resulting conversation has become the second chapter of our new regular feature dedicated to cataloguing the history of innovation in modern cycling performance: Innovation Museum.


    Ciao Vincenzo! To begin with we’d like to ask you if you can remember the first time in your career that you made an upgrade to your bike? What was it? Why did you do it? Could you “feel the difference” afterwards?

    Forever [laughs]… as far back as I can remember I’ve always made upgrades to my bike. From when I was just a kid I’ve always given the utmost attention to every last technical detail of my bike. Already at 16 years old my bike was right on the legal weight limit, built up with all sorts of ultralight components. I specifically remember a pair of Mavic Cosmic wheels, with special skewers and ultralight gear cassette that my father bought me for almost 2 million lire if I remember correctly… I remember that I was crazy for Spynergy wheels but they were banned by the UCI at the time…


    When was the first time in your career that you could really “feel the difference” between one setup or component and another? What was the component?

    Well, before becoming a professional I always used to setup my bikes at home, together with my dad and we both used to pay particular attention to all the ball bearings and seals on the bike, making sure they were fluid, nicely cleaned and greased. You could feel the difference between poorly and well-maintained bearings!

    Also: I’ve always wanted the lightest wheels possible. Whilst I would accept my frame being slightly heavier than necessary, the wheels absolutely not, they had to be ultralight because it’s the light weight of the wheel that allows for a more rapid acceleration. Before I mentioned the Mavic Cosmics but now I’m remember another “homemade” set of wheels, made by a local “artisanal” wheelbuilder as was the custom back then, with the spoke nipples in Ergal that had to be locked into place with superglue otherwise they came out… FRM hubs, which were a truly extraordinary product at the time, in the late 90s… Already back then I preferred wheels with a higher profile rim at the back – which conferred greater rigidity – and a lower profile at the front. I found that this improved handling greatly, making it faster to manoeuvre.


    Is there any technological innovation that you feel you were the first to employ or introduce to the peloton during your career? Which you pioneered? 

    I feel comfortable saying that I think I started using Ketones one or two years before the rest of the group during my career. First simply in my diet and then later with the finished product to use during races. There were other little things too, like my idea to move the radio pocket on my time trial skinsuit to the front… In general I was really just always extremely careful with regard to my contact points on the bike: my saddle – which remained pretty much the same throughout my entire career – my shoes, which because I have particularly sensitive feet, always had to be a particular way. In fact as you can see [he removes the insoles from a pair of shoes used during his career] you can see here the way I would personally tape the insole with different thicknesses of tape according to where I needed more padding. I could feel the difference even just when I added a tiny bit of electrical tape… In fact it was this foot sensitivity that first led me to use and discover Q36.5!

    Wait, wait, we’ll get to that part of the story!

    [laughs] Ok


    Did you have a favourite component/bike build during your career? What was it about it that most impressed you the first time you used it? 

    I never had a favourite build but I did always have a favourite mechanic. At Liquigas there was Giuseppe Archetti, at Astana Gabriele Tosello, to name two. It’s a mechanic who makes the difference to your build! You also win races because the bike is in perfect working order… I mean, there are a lot of great mechanics in professional cycling but the ones who really make the difference are the ones that know how to modify components by themselves or who have a privileged relationship with a supplier and can obtain special modifications or new variants of a product that aren’t currently commercially available…


    Before, when you were pulling out your bikes for Giovanni [the photographer] you said that you recently took your Cannondale Supersix from 2012 out for a ride and were very pleasantly surprised by how it still rode. Can you explain to us a little better what you meant? Has it got to do with the fact it has rim brakes? 

    It has to do with a lot of things but above all yes it has to do with the braking system and consequently the weight of the bike. With the introduction of disc brakes in road bikes, modern road bikes became far stiffer because of the braking load being closer to the hub, and also heavier because of the extra material needed to handle this load. But at the same time the bikes are far more aerodynamic allowing you to go faster on the flats even if then you lose something on climbs…
    So older rim brake carbon fiber bicycles are much lighter and feel faster to handle (also thanks to the reduced tyre section). It’s as though rim brake bikes were a dagger while a disc brake bike is a sword. The dagger is extremely fast but the sword is much harder…


    Ok! So finally time to talk a little about Q36.5… can you tell us about the first time you came across the brand? And the first item you tried? How would you describe using it? Could you feel the difference? 

    I discovered Q36.5 thanks to (ex-professional) Ivan Santoromita. But first to give a little context: as a professional I was always a very acute observer of other riders and equipment. I looked at how different riders dressed, I looked out for anything new in the peloton. A team captain or protected rider always has something different to the rest of his team, even just something tiny, almost invisible. So I’d always check them out. Not just what they were wearing or had on their bike but also their way of pedalling, their style… When Ivan was a professional I always looked at what he was wearing because I knew he was a rider who was very particular about his clothing, who paid attention to the details. And I noticed that he was always wearing something from this brand, Q36.5, so I asked him a bit about it and I found out that Luigi [Bergamo, founder of Q36.5] was behind it and that he had developed some other products that I had used and very much appreciated in my career and then one day Ivan brought me a pair of socks to try…

    Now as I told you earlier I have very sensitive feet, particularly the front part of my foot. So if you have a look through photos of when I was a rider you’ll often see that I’m wearing a plain black or plain white sock rather than team socks. This was because wearing the wrong kind of sock would lead my feet to burn up, to even lose all feeling in my big toe. So I always chose socks very carefully… And I immediately felt perfectly comfortable in the Q36.5 socks that Ivan had given me. They ticked all the boxes for what I needed from socks: they didn’t feel too synthetic, they were soft, lightweight and didn’t create a single crease on the foot when inside my shoes. So for the rest of my career I used Q36.5 socks instead of those provided by sponsors.

    After that, towards the end of my last year riding as a professional, I began to buy and try other pieces by Q. I remember trying the first Dottore Pro bib short: it was already perfect, tight fitting, never moving out of position even during high exertion, with a chamois pad that you couldn’t say a single bad thing about. In my opinion bib shorts are the point of strength of the brand, also because being the primary point of contact with the bike it’s the most important piece of apparel you wear on a bike… you use it for 5-6 hours at a time… it needs to be comfortable, breathable.


    These days what Q36.5 pieces do you use? Do you have a favourite product? Even something small, unexpected, less “important” to which you are particularly attached? 

    These days I wear head-to-toe Q36.5 and as I said I really appreciate the bib shorts but I also really like the new shoes: the Dottore Clima. But if you’re asking me what I’m really especially attached to it has to be the Air Jacket, your windbreaker jacket. It’s an incredible garment! Scrunched up it fits in the palm of your hand and you can bring it with you and wear it any time of year that you want to go ride up in the mountains, just put it in your pocket or a little saddle bag. When you put it on you can feel that it immediately protects you… Oh and also the new ultralight socks [clima socks], those are just genius!

    Images: Giovanni Benvenuto