Road

Nibali’s future with Astana navigating murky waters

"I no longer want to go to the races angry," says Nibali, who admits he's looking at other options for when his contract ends in 2016.

MILAN (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali planned his 2016 season with team Astana, and now he must think about 2017. He says he has an offer to renew with team Astana, but he could look elsewhere. Trek Factory Racing is said to be first in line.

A decision could be made as early as May, when he is scheduled to race for a second Giro d’Italia title.

The catch would be great because Nibali is cycling’s most complete grand tour rider. Not only has he won all three big tours, most recently the 2014 Tour de France, but he regularly competes in one-day races. He won the monument Il Lombardia this fall, adding to his third-place result in Milano-Sanremo and a second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, both from 2012.

“I’ve already been offered a renewal contract two times,” Nibali told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper two weeks ago.

“There’s interest from [Astana] and now it’s up to me to decide. I’ll do so based on what is added to the contract. It’s not a money decision, but in base of which races I can do, what schedules and who will be at my side… I no longer want to go to the races angry, but happy.”

Nibali’s on/off relationship with Astana could see him jump from the Kazakh ship. He won stage in the 2015 Tour en route to a fourth-place finish and netted three late-season wins, including Il Lombardia. But there were some low moments.

The build-up to the Tour and the first half of the race were going so poorly that team boss Alexander Vinokourov said Nibali needed a good mechanic because there was something broken in his head. At the Vuelta a España, the race jury ejected Nibali for holding on to a team car too long as he chased back from a crash during stage 2.

Those moments and the rise of Astana’s new star Fabio Aru, who won the Vuelta, could see “The Shark” swimming in different waters starting in 2017. Rumors initially said BMC Racing and Tinkoff could be suitors, but the former has stars Tejay van Garderen, Richie Porte, and Rohan Dennis on its roster. The future of Oleg Tinkov’s Tinkoff squad is uncertain beyond 2016.

Trek’s general manager Luca Guercilena, however, has made no secret of the fact that he is looking to beef up his GC team. He hired Bauke Mollema for 2015 and Ryder Hesjedal for 2016, but he’s looking for a weapon of mass destruction.

“[Nibali is] valued highly and so we know it won’t be easy,” Guercilena told VeloNews. “We have all of 2016 ahead of us, so it’s going to be something we are going to talk about in the next period. Not now. We are thinking about 2016 first, and to get results with the athletes we already have. For sure, though, we are going to start thinking about the future and having a competitive team for 2017 and 2018.”

Nibali could extend his contract with Astana and announce it anytime. With cycling’s rules, however, any deal he makes with a new team would not become official until August 1.

For now, 2016 takes center stage. At a team camp at the end of November, Nibali and Astana planned his 2016 spring schedule: the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, Tour of Oman, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, Giro del Trentino, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.