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Tour de France

Astana insists that Nibali will be Tour domestique

Fabio Aru has had an unimpressive run-up to the Tour de France. However, Astana will bet on the young Italian, not former champ Vincenzo Nibali, as team leader.

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MILAN (VN) — Team Astana will take Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali to the Tour de France to help Fabio Aru win — not to aim for his second title after his 2014 victory.

The team in turquoise met this winter in Montecatini Terme, Italy, to plan its season. Its top brass decided that Sardinian Fabio Aru, who placed second in the 2015 Giro and won the 2015 Vuelta a España, would race the Tour for the first time. Nibali would aim for the Giro, which he won last month. Afterward, Nibali planned the Tour to prepare for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“Everyone is racing for Astana,” team manager Giuseppe Martinelli told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. “Nibali is a helper. We’re not going to the Tour with two leaders. I don’t want any kind of duels.

“Then the selection will be made in base of the race situation. I’m lucky to have these two at my disposal. Look, it’s easier than you might imagine.”

Aru helped Nibali win the 2013 Giro in his first grand tour. Afterward, he never finished out of the top five. He placed third in 2014 and second in 2015 behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff). In the 2014 Vuelta, he placed fifth and won two stages, and returned last year to win by toppling Tom Dumoulin (Giant – Alpecin) in a thrilling finale.

The 25-year-old from the southwest side of Sardinia will lead Astana’s nine-man Tour team. Astana confirmed the eight helpers Monday: Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang, Tanel Kangert, Alexey Lutsenko, Luis León Sánchez, Diego Rosa, Andriy Grivko, and Paolo Tiralongo. Nibali, Fuglsang, Kangert, Rosa, and Tiralongo will provide firepower in the mountains for Aru.

Aru’s form has been a topic of discussion for much of the spring. Unlike favorites Chris Froome (Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Contador, he has not won a stage race this spring. His only win was the stage to Tournon in the Critérium du Dauphiné two weeks ago, but the days beforehand, he lost seconds and later, 45 minutes.

“I didn’t have the Dauphiné as a goal,” Aru said. “I won the third stage, then I looked after myself while putting rhythm and kilometers in my legs.”

Aru placed 45th overall behind Froome, who also won the Dauphiné in 2013 and 2015 before going on to win the Tour de France. In other tours this year, Aru placed sixth in the Vuelta a la Valenciana, ninth in the Volta ao Algarve, and 14th in the Volta a Catalunya. He abandoned the País Vasco stage race in April after a crash.

One might wonder why Aru should be considered a favorite for the Tour, but then you only need to look at his past grand tour performances and his lead-ups beforehand. Both last year’s Giro and Vuelta were preceded by rocky rides.

“Vincenzo and I prefer to find rhythm in limited events that count. We find it works well. And we won’t change the approach,” Aru explained. “Nibali was also criticized, but in the end, he proved to be right in the Giro.”

Both before the Critérium du Dauphiné and after, Aru has been training in Italy’s northwest Alps around the Sestriere ski resort.

“I’ve sacrificed a lot. I get up at seven and return to my room at nine at night,” he added. “We are training a lot, and I’m convinced that it will pay off.”

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