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Plan Nibali: Italy rallies around Tour winner for worlds

MILAN (VN) — Italy is rallying its troops around Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) for the world championship road race in Ponferrada, Spain. The official team will not be known until Friday, September 12, 16 days before the race on September 28, but it appears that it will be one for Nibali.

“We’ve been talking about this since he won the Italian Championship race,” Italy’s head coach Davide Cassani said at a fan club party two weeks ago in honor of Nibali’s Tour win. “He wants to wear Italy’s blue jersey and is thinking about the worlds.”

Nibali became the first Italian to win the Tour de France since Marco Pantani in 1998 and only the seventh in the history of the race. The 29-year-old Sicilian won four stages and the overall with 7:37 on Frenchman Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale).

He now wants to try to become the first Italian to win the worlds title since Alessandro Ballan in 2008. Already in 2013, despite a crash on the wet roads in Florence, he finished fourth.

“If he has the form of the [Tour] then we are confident,” added Cassani. “If he is slightly off, he could still have it his way, even if the course is not perfect for him.”

After the last five years where the title event began with a point to point section, the 2014 course will take place entirely on a circuit. The Ponferrada circuit in northwest Spain, 100 kilometers west of Leon, runs 18.2km and includes two climbs and a 5km descent to the line. The elite men will race it 14 times, which works out to 254.8km and 4,284 meters of climbing in one day.

Nibali, despite being known as a grand tour cyclist thanks to wins in all three, has done remarkably well in one-day races since joining the professional ranks in 2005. He has won several smaller Italian races and France’s GP Ouest-France classic. In 2012, he placed third in Milano-Sanremo and second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège — both times benefiting from attacks late in the race.

After the Tour de France, Nibali planned his end-of-season schedule with trainer Paolo Slongo and team manager Giuseppe Martinelli with the worlds in mind. This week, Nibali will return from a sponsor visit in Kazakhstan and at his home in Lugano, Switzerland, he will meet with Slongo for specific motor-pace training.

He will officially return to racing in the Coppa Bernocchi on September 16, and will continue in the Coppa Agostini, the Tre Valli Varesine, the Memorial Pantani, and the GP Prato. In the last two races, he could already wear Italy’s blue jersey instead of Astana’s turquoise colors since his trade team is not planning to attend.

While Nibali is in Kazakhstan, Cassani is busy tailor-fitting the team, or ‘Squadra Azzurra,’ for Nibali. He told VeloNews after seeing the circuit in February that it is hard but not one to force an elite group naturally like the 2013 Florence course. Instead, Italy must create a hard race for Nibali and must take the right men to do so.

Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Alessandro Vanotti (Astana), and Manuel Quinziato (BMC Racing) could be Italy’s workhorses. Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo) is the road captain to organize the riders who, unlike in UCI WorldTour races, are not allowed to use two-way radios. Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) for a sprint and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) for an attack could be alternatives to Plan Nibali.

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