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With poor form and a troubled team, Vincenzo Nibali is neither saying nor doing much

Vincenzo Nibali is not easily rattled. But he's well off top form, his team is in trouble, and he's making himself hard to find

MONTE TERMINILLO, Italy (VN) — Team Astana has had better days. Its star rider is struggling to match his direct rivals, losing more than two minutes on Sunday in Italy’s Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, and its future is up in the air.
 
Nibali immediately ran for shelter from the snow and freezing temperatures when he reached the finish line atop Monte Terminillo. He stayed in the Astana bus and, for the second consecutive day, refused to speak to waiting press.
 
From outside, the closed-door policy did not look good.
 
Inside the turquoise bus, life must be getting hotter as the team’s staff struggles to understand Astana’s future. The UCI wants the team out of the sport. In February, the international governing body asked that its license commission review the Astana case after five doping cases over the last year — including two from the professional team — and an independent audit indicating problems.
 
One of the riders, Maxim Iglinskiy, tested positive for the blood booster EPO only a month after helping Nibali win the 2014 Tour de France. It reflected poorly on the Italian even if his hands are clean.
 
“It’s politics,” Nibali said before the start of Tirreno-Adriatico. “This Astana case has nothing to do with us cyclists.”
 
Nibali is known for being able to unplug easily, a characteristic that insiders say helped him remain relaxed and win the Tour, and indeed he may not be bothered by the Astana case. The team reportedly has until March 20 to present its defense to the license commission.
 
In any case, “The Shark” from Sicily has more immediate concerns. Behind the closed doors, he would have been able to review the fifth stage of Tirreno-Adriatico on television, and the standings, after climbing to the Monte Terminillo ski station.
 
After losing seven seconds on Saturday, he lost 2:16 on Sunday to stage winner and new leader Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar). His other Tour de France rivals — Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) — finished ahead, too.
 
Nibali won Tirreno-Adriatico twice, in 2012 and 2013. In 2013, he won before going on to take the Giro d’Italia title. This year, he sits 2:23 behind Quintana and has no chance to win.
 
The performance follows a similar showing in the Tour of Oman, where he lost 2 minutes and 27 seconds on the Green Mountain summit finish. That day, he told VeloNews: “I’m not in condition, clearly, but this is February and the Tour is in July. It means nothing.”
 
One month later, three and a half months until the Tour, his condition appears to be the same. Adding to the problems, he lacked team support over the last two days. With 10 kilometers remaining on Monte Terminillo today, he had zero teammates to support him in a group that numbered around 20.
 
General manager Alexandre Vinokourov has his hands full trying to save the team’s license and right to race through 2015, but he must still be keeping an eye on the races. If he saw the result on Monte Terminillo, he would find little to cheer about.