MILAN (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) fired his guns in the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday and ended feeling surprised at his strength after a break and a training camp.

The Sicilian is aiming to defend his 2014 title at this summer’s Tour de France. He just returned from an altitude training camp on the Spanish island of Tenerife for the Ardennes classics and the Tour de Romandie.

During Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands, he attacked with 36 kilometers remaining and stayed ahead of the field for 18km.

“I’m pretty happy with myself because to be going so strongly after returning means that I’m good. In fact, it’s a confirmation that in training I worked well,” Nibali told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.

“Maybe I wasn’t even expecting to be so ahead. But, I was sure that I worked well in Tiede [Tenerife], so I knew that more or less my legs would be good.”

The 258km race was Nibali’s first after Milano-Sanremo on March 22 and a 15-day camp at 2,165 meters (7,103 feet) above sea level in Tenerife.

Nibali finished 65th, 1:20 behind winner and reigning world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step).

He will next race Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne and Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Liège should suit him better, with its climbs and its distance (253km). In 2012, he attacked and rode solo only to be caught at the base of the final climb into Ans.

Following Switzerland’s Tour de Romandie, Nibali will return to Tenerife for another 16 days.

He also used his time in the north of Europe to preview stage 4 of the Tour de France. The stage to Cambrai covers 13.3km of pavé, some of which was used in last week’s Paris-Roubaix.

“The first sector [No. 6] was the hardest. It’s narrower, and there will be a battle to be at the front beforehand,” Nibali said.

“The last two to three are not easy either. The last one has a lot of grass along the ridge and if it rains, it’ll be like soap. The two sectors beforehand rise slightly, which will be felt in a stage of 220 kilometers. Whereas last year, the sectors were flat.”

In the 2014 Tour de France’s cobbled stage to Arenberg, Nibali put 2:35 on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and 3:27 on eventual runner-up, Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale).

Nibali’s Kazakh team, besides preparing for the Tour, is fighting to keep its racing license. Last year, it suffered from two doping cases and three from its lower-ranked Continental team with the same Astana name.

The positives caused the UCI to ask for an audit. It has taken the next step, requesting its license commission to strip the team of its license. Astana officials will have another hearing on the matter this Friday.

“It’s clear that the situation is stressful,” Nibali explained.

“Everyone asks me, everyone wants to know. There’s only one thing to know: I am and I’ll stay a cyclist with Astana, and I’m convinced that we will get to the end of the season. If it turns out differently, we’ll talk about it when it’s appropriate.”