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Astana boss: Nibali’s Burgos performance ‘encouraging’ ahead of Vuelta

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) couldn’t answer Nairo Quintana (Movistar) when the Colombian attacked Sunday to win the Vuelta a Burgos, but the Giro d’Italia champion takes quiet optimism out of Spain.

With less than two weeks to go before the start of the Vuelta a España, Nibali told reporters Sunday that he was satisfied with his performance at the five-day Burgos tour, where he finished third overall.

“This stage was a test ahead of the Vuelta. I tried to win the stage, but it wasn’t meant to be,” Nibali told Ciclismo de Burgos. “The most important thing is that the sensations were better than they were last week.”

“The Shark” was clearly struggling in his return to racing at the Tour of Poland in late July, when he lined up to race for the first time since winning the Giro back in May.

Things were so bleak that even Astana team boss Giuseppe Martinelli wondered out loud if Nibali would be ready in time to race the Vuelta in good enough condition to challenge for the victory.

Nibali, however, was looking sharper throughout the five-day Burgos tour across northern Spain. Sunday’s six-climb, mountaintop finish at Lagunas de Neila provided the first real litmus test on where he stood against his rivals.

Quintana, hot off his breakthrough Tour de France performance, blew everyone out of the water, countering off a surge from Nibali at about 1km to go.

Nibali tried to hold his wheel, but couldn’t. Instead, he rode across the line fourth on the stage, good enough to secure third on the podium behind Quintana and David Arroyo (CajaRural).

“I made a strong attack at 1km, but [Quintana] still has great form from the Tour. When he accelerated, we couldn’t follow him,” Nibali explained. “Now I have a few quiet days with the family.”

Luckily for Nibali, Quintana is not racing the Vuelta, and instead returning to Colombia for a hero’s welcome following his second place overall result at the Tour, the best ever by a South American in the race.

Astana will bring a stacked squad to the Vuelta, with many of the same riders who helped Nibali win the Giro, with likely starts from Jakob Fuglsang and Janez Brajkovic.

The Kazakhs will have one of the strongest teams in the Spanish tour, and now the team is gaining confidence that Nibali will be up to the job of trying to aim for overall victory.

“It was a good test [Sunday] to see how Nibali’s form is coming along. I can say we are all very satisfied with what we saw,” said Astana sport director Alexandre Shefer said on the team’s website. “There were justifiable doubts about his progress, but the racing he did previous to Burgos was too early for him to go full gas. Here he had his sights set on the final stage from the start, and he rode to his limits on the day. It’s very encouraging as we head into the Vuelta.”

The 65th Vuelta begins August 24 in Galicia.

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