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Nibali to skip Lombardia, plans for 2017

MILAN (VN) — Italian Vincenzo Nibali will return to racing Tuesday after fracturing his collarbone in the Olympics, but he will not try to defend his 2015 Il Lombardia win this weekend.

The 31-year-old will race the Tre Valli Varesine with the No. 1 on this back as last year’s winner. It will be the Astana rider’s first race after crashing on August 6 while on a gold-medal attack in the Rio de Janeiro road race with Colombian Sergio Henao.

“Certainly, he won’t be in the same condition that he was in last year, but he’s a champion and will honor the race,” Astana sport director Stefano Zanini told local website Prealpina.

Nibali sat out nine weeks, but he will be one of the favorites to win. That list also includes Adam Yates (Orica – BikeExchange) and Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale – Drapac). Esteban Chaves (Orica), winner of the Giro dell’Emilia on Saturday and third overall in the Vuelta a España, will skip Tre Valli and aim for Il Lombardia.

“These end-of-season races like Milano-Torino and Lombardia suit me,” Chaves said. “I’m dreaming of winning Lombardia.”

Nibali’s dream run in the end-of-season classics turned around in 2015. After fourth in the Tour de France and a Vuelta a España disqualification, he won the Coppa Bernocchi, Tre Valli, and Lombardia. In Il Lombardia, formally called the Giro di Lombardia, he attacked on the second-to-last climb 17.3 kilometers out and soloed to victory lakeside in Como.

Organizer RCS Sport could not have asked for a better finish to its race, the final of five monuments in the cycling season. It had Italy’s biggest star winning alone next to the scenic Lake Como in the national tricolor champion’s jersey. It will have to look for another successful mix this year when the race finishes in Bergamo after 4,000 meters of climbing.

Nibali is looking for a soft landing to end his 2016 season. He already gave Astana its parting victory in May when he scored his second Giro d’Italia title, and later tried his best for his country in Rio. Now, it is time for him to look ahead to 2017.

The Tre Valli Varesine, the Tour of Almaty on October 2 in his team’s home of Kazakhstan, and the Abu Dhabi Tour — also run by RCS Sport — will end the 2016 season for Nibali. The winter will be a busy one because after four years in Astana’s blue, he will join new team Bahrain – Merida.

Nibali is the team’s star and had a hand in selecting its staff, such as coach Paolo Slongo. Since the Middle East team is new, he must give more of his time to details like new bikes from Merida and new kits from Sportful. The team is also fighting to ensure it has a spot in the UCI WorldTour for 2017.

“The license situation good,” general manager Brent Copeland said last week. “All the registration process is moving forward as we planned.”

Copeland already planned the team’s first training camp. It will not be on the small, 297 square-mile island in the Persian Gulf, but in Croatia. Sport director Vladimir Miholjevic knows the country well, since he organized the national tours.

The team counts 17 riders already. According to some rumors, it may sign Spaniards Ion Izaguirre (from Movistar) and Igor Antón (Dimension Data). They could help Nibali in what could potentially become one of his biggest seasons yet. It will kick off when he debuts in the team’s red kit in Argentina’s Tour de San Luis on January 17.

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