MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali needs his group of helpers regardless of which team he rides for in 2017. The Italian says that whether he stays with team Astana or jumps ship, perhaps to Trek – Segafredo, he wants his allies close.
The 31-year-old has won all three grand tours and last year, in the Tour de France, he placed fourth overall and took victory in the La Toussuire stage. This year, he will aim for a second Giro d’Italia title and a gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Next year remains an unknown, but he will decide on a team sometime soon.
“Let’s say that at this point, my manager Alex Carera is taking care of everything,” Nibali told press at the Tour of Oman this week. “There have been some important contacts, as the Italian press like Gazzetta has picked up on, and I can’t say any more than that.”
Nibali leaned forward in his chair next to the hotel’s fountain. He sat alone, but talked about the riders and staff that help him in the big races.
“It’s clear that you need to take everything into consideration. I know the other teams well, and I know the value of Astana,” he said. “At Astana, there’s a group who works with me, so it’s important that the group stays with me. That’s my thinking, at least. I’d like to keep them close. It’s not just about Vincenzo Nibali, but about the group around him.”
Unlike Richie Porte, who joined BMC Racing this winter without any of his Sky teammates, Nibali wants to take one or two teammates, a masseur, and a trainer. It would be similar to when Alberto Contador joined Saxo Bank for 2011, along with Daniel Navarro, Jesús Hernández, and Benjamin Noval. VeloNews understands that Nibali would take Alessandro Vanotti, Valerio Agnoli, masseur Michele Pallini, and trainer Paolo Slongo.
The break could happen even if Nibali helped the Astana team win the Giro and Tour over the last three years. The Sicilian has butted heads with general manager Alexander Vinokourov over his fitness, his helpers, and the team’s doping cases. Though Vinokourov gave a 99 percent chance late last year that Nibali would stay with Astana, it appears Trek – Segafredo and perhaps Lampre – Merida’s pull could be too much to resist for him.
Joe Vadeboncoeur, Trek’s VP of product development, marketing, and creative design, told VeloNews the team now has money to court a grand tour winner thanks to coffee giant Segafredo joining as co-sponsor over the winter. Given Segafredo’s base in Italy, it makes sense for the team to woo Nibali. General manager Luca Guercilena said Trek is interested in Nibali, but it must negotiate and out-bid other teams. Before making any decision, however, Nibali will first consider his group.
“Last year there were some misunderstandings. We were trying to build the group in a certain direction and maybe it wasn’t easy. There maybe wasn’t the right feeling, especially during the first week [of the Tour],” Nibali said.
“I guard my teammates with jealousy because we’re a good group, they’re people I care about. We’re a group of friends. At this moment, it’s clear that I’m feeling good, I’ve started well. With the group around me, we’ve raced the Tour de San Luis, then a good training camp at Teide [Spain] and now we’re here.”
Here in Oman, the cyclist who Italians refer to as “the Shark of Messina” already appears hungry. He broke free with 16 riders, including stage winner Bob Jungels of Etixx – Quick-Step, on Tuesday. In Wednesday’s stage 2, he placed second behind Edvald Boasson Hagen of Dimension Data on the short and rapid uphill finish.
Nibali now sits second overall, 4 seconds behind Boasson Hagen, through three stages.