Giro champion Nibali struggling with Scarponi loss

Justin DAVIS
Italy's Vincenzo Nibali, pictured in 2016, hopes to defend his pink jersey

Defending Giro d'Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali said he is still coming to terms with the death of former teammate Michele Scarponi as he prepares to launch his bid for a third pink jersey.

Scarponi, 37, was killed in a road accident on April 22 during an early morning training ride for the May 5-28 race, where he was to lead the Astana team after the injury-induced withdrawal of Fabio Aru.

Nibali, the 2015 Tour de France champion who won his home race in 2013 and 2016, will line up for Friday's opening stage from Alghero to Olbia in Sardinia hoping his efforts over the coming weeks, especially in a "terrible" final week, are enough "for a podium place".

But the 32-year-old Bahrain team leader said he is still digesting the loss of Scarponi, who left behind a wife and twin boys when he was hit by a van while honing his pre-race form.

"We think of Michele when we're out on the bike, and sometimes we try to imagine it's all the result of fake news, or a joke. But unfortunately, it's not," Nibali told media in Alghero on Wednesday.

"It's difficult to talk about. But certainly, our thoughts are all with the family of Michele and we will try to stay as close to them as possible."

Two days before riders set off in the 100th edition of the race, organisers could have hoped for a better start.

Scarponi's death was followed by that of 21-year-old American Chad Young, after he suffered head injuries in a crash at the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico.

When Giro race organisers RCS tried earlier this week to introduce a cash-prize incentive for the fastest times on specific downhill sections, they were forced to backpedal.

"Race organisers have decided to eliminate all such classifications and prize money as per the race regulations, leaving the timekeeping of the descents purely as statistical data for the fans," said a statement by RCS.

It followed an outcry by some riders in the peloton and officials at the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Trek rider Jasper Stuyven said on Twitter: "Seriously?! If this (is) true you should be ashamed, aren't there already enough crashes? Clearly you only care about sensation."

UCI senior official Tom van Damme said the idea of prizes for speeding downhill was "unacceptable" and called for it to be binned.

The last fatality on the Giro, which begins Friday with a 206km first stage, was in 2011 when Wouter Weylandt crashed on the descent of the Passo del Bocco.