Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali insists he will defend his Tour de Franc title next year despite Astana’s UCI ProTeam licence being reviewed as a result of three riders associated with it failing doping controls in the past three months. He also believes the comparative lack of time-trialling in next July’s race will help give him an edge over some of his rivals.
Speaking on Wednesday after the route of the 102nd edition of the Tour was revealed in Paris, Nibali said he was not worried about being excluded from the race, as happened to defending champion Alberto Contador in 2007.
The Spaniard, riding for Discovery Channel, had won the Tour for the first time in 2007, and switched to Astana during the close season.
But the Kazakh outfit, whose star rider Alexandre Vinokourov – now its general manager – was found to have undertaken an illegal blood transfusion during that race, was excluded from the 2008 Tour.
Earlier this month, the UCI revealed that its licence commission would undertake a review of Astana’s management and anti-doping policy after three riders, all Kazakh, failed doping controls.
The Iglinskiy brothers, Valentin and Maxim, both tested positive for EPO in August, while a third rider, Ilya Davidenok, a member of its feeder team but riding as a stagaire since the start of August, returned a positive test for anabolic steroids.
Nibali said he was not concerned about the prospect of becoming only the second champion in the race’s 112-year history to be prevented from defending his title.
"I don't think there are big problems for Astana's licence," said the Sicilian, who had Maxim Iglinskiy as one of his support riders in the Tour this year.
"The incidents that happened concern the Iglinskiy family, it's a separate thing,” he maintained, reports AFP.
"As a team we can't respond to what two brothers got up to. As for the last one [Davidenok], he's not one of ours, he's part of the Continental team and is not managed by us [ie the Astana ProTeam] but by someone else [Astana’s UCI Continental feeder team].
He alluded to the team’s absence from the 2008 race, as well as his own stance on doping, which saw him describe drugs as “abhorrent” shortly after his Tour victory in July.
"Certainly things happened a few years ago but the team has changed and it's also my responsibility to give more clarity on my part.
"But there is great serenity in the team in terms of my way of racing and my sporting seriousness in these years," he added.
Nibali won four road stages at this year’s Tour – the most by any champion since Eddy Merckx in 1974 – but it was one that he didn’t win, Stage 5 over some of the secteurs of the Paris-Roubaix pave, that saw him take the greatest time from his rivals.
There’s a similar amount of riding over the cobbles on Stage 4 of the race from Seraing to Cambrai, but Nibali believes it’s the relative absence of time trialling that will most favour him.
The individual effort against the clock on the opening day in Utrecht is just 14km in length – the least amount of riders racing on their own in the Tour since the format made its debut in 1947 – and there is also a team time trial of twice that distance on Stage 9 as the race approaches its halfway point.
"I've always liked the time-trials but it's true that it can be difficult against the great time-triallers who can always produce something extra," admitted Nibali. "But in the last Tour I think I defended myself really well [in the time trial]”, he added.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome, winner of the race in 2013, has already said that he may ride the Giro d’Italia, which has an individual time trial of around 60km, over the Tour.
Nibali, however, and Contador – stripped in 2012 of the Tour de France title he had won in Astana’s colours in 2010 after testing positive for clenbuterol, although in between he had joined Saxo Bank, now Tinkoff-Saxo – have both said they may target the Giro-Tour double next season.
The last man to achieve that was the late Marco Pantani in 1998.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.