Astana says Nibali still on target for Tour challenge

Nibali is trailing Chris Froome by nearly a minute at the Critérium du Dauphiné, the pair's final Tour tuneup race

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LA MURE, France (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana team realize they are down, but they do not consider themselves out for the Tour de France.

“I’m not worried,” Nibali told VeloNews. “Two years ago at the Dauphiné, I went slow and easy. I lost nine minutes on the stage that Nairo Quintana won. At the Tour, though, I placed third overall.”

Nibali sits sixth overall in the Critérium du Dauphiné, 50 seconds behind race leader Chris Froome (Sky), with the big and final weekend to come. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) are 12 seconds adrift of Froome in second and third.

The results don’t surprise cycling’s followers because Nibali has yet to win this year, while Froome and Contador have each won two stage races. Nibali, however, did win the Giro d’Italia last year and placed second in the Vuelta a España.

“He’s used to winning. That weight of not winning is there, but it’s not a big problem,” Astana team manager Giuseppe Martinelli said. “In 2011, it was like that, he escaped often, had a lot of podiums and didn’t win. I don’t think that he’s not sleeping at night because of this.”

“Oh no! I haven’t won yet!” Nibali joked. “It doesn’t bother me. I’ve got time.”

Nibali said that he is not bothered because he trained to be on target for the Tour de France in July. At the end of 2012, when Astana signed him from Liquigas-Cannondale, Martinelli planned for him to race — and win — the Giro in 2013 and aim for the Tour in 2014.

“The Tour is Nibali’s goal,” Contador said. “Even if it seems like it’s just me and Froome dominating now, we can count on him, he’ll get better.”

Astana planned Nibali’s early season around the Tour de France by having him race Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné. Paolo Slongo, the team’s head trainer, also programmed his altitude training in Tenerife to be ready for his return in the Dauphiné and in the weeks that follow.

“At this point, [Froome and Contador] have a small advantage because they returned from altitude training a week earlier and have a week more of acclimatization,” Martinelli said. “Contador, for example, went a week earlier to Tenerife because he didn’t race the Tour de Romandie.”

Nibali lost 27 seconds to Froome in Monday’s stage that finished on the Col du Béal, which Martinelli said was partly due to that acclimatization process.

“It’s Froome and Contador on the top of the Tour podium for now, Vincenzo third and a handful of others behind,” said Martinelli. “We still have a month to improve, though.

“Someone on the top could slow down between now and the Tour de France or have some sort of problem. And at the Tour, in that fifth stage on the pavé, someone could completely lose it.”

The Tour de France starts July 5 in Yorkshire, England, and features its first mountaintop finish on July 14. Froome and Contador appear in control, but as Martinelli said, don’t count out Nibali.

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