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Nibali reunites with trainer Slongo for Tour de France bid

Nibali worked with Paolo Slongo during his time with Cannondale

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MILAN (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali will again work with trainer Paolo Slongo as he prepares to win the Tour de France next year. After five years together at Cannondale, Astana hired Slongo and reunited the duo.

“It’s exciting to work towards winning the Tour de France,” Slongo told VeloNews. “It’s a reason to change teams.”

Slongo already helped Nibali achieve a podium place in 2012, when the Sicilian stood on the third step behind Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. The aim is clear for 2014: win the Tour.

With that goal in mind, general manager Alexander Vinokourov and team manager Giuseppe Martinelli called Slongo. They were already calling the trainer from Treviso last year when they signed Nibali, who went on to win the Giro d’Italia and place second in the Vuelta a España behind Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard). At Cannondale, where Slongo worked since 2008, the situation changed.

Paolo Zani sold his shares to Cannondale’s parent company Dorel Industries, which is now the team’s sole owner. At the same time, it appeared Oleg Tinkov was going to take over some or all of the team.

“This year many things changed,” Slongo added. “It was a chance for me to find new challenges.”

Prior to Cannondale, Slongo worked with the national women and junior teams. At Cannondale, he helped created a tight group where riders like Peter Sagan and Nibali flourished. In fact, he set the same challenge for himself in Astana’s sky blue colors.

“That’s my challenge, to help the group grow like I did in Cannondale, to take medium-high-range riders to the top,” he said. “I want to create a family and group atmosphere. There’s a lot of potential in Astana with the athletes, camps, etc. If you are good at your work, you can have a carte blanche.”

The family atmosphere will result from the team’s many camps, starting next week with a meet-and-greet in Italy. The serious business will come later in the year at Astana’s altitude camps in Tenerife or San Pellegrino. And what will be important for Nibali is that he will have his former trainer following him day after day toward the Tour’s start in Yorkshire and during the Tour itself. Slongo will mostly follow Nibali’s Tour group. Maurizio Mazzoleni, hired last year, will follow the other riders.

He will have his challenges. Nibali got married and announced he and his wife are expecting a baby in February. That’s great news but it could potentially be disastrous for a grand tour challenger and a trainer. Wiggins said earlier this year that after his first Tour win he found it hard to put the efforts in again with his family at home.

“I don’t want Vincenzo to spend more time away from home! He has to for his work, the least I can do is to create an atmosphere where he wants to come to the camps,” Slongo explained. “The thing I noticed with [Sky] is that its camps are different, it’s all science and not that much human touch. Even down to deciding what they eat. That may work for Wiggins or even one of our riders like Ivan Basso, but Nibali would lose his mind.”

The duo will meet in Montecatini next Monday to plot the 2014 season. It will be a season of challenges, just the way Slongo wanted it.