Vinokourov: Aru and Nibali will split 2016 schedule

The Astana chief says his two GC riders will race opposite grand tour schedules, which could send Aru to France and Nibali to Italy.

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MILAN (VN) — Astana riders Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali will split the 2016 schedule between them. Team general manager Alexander Vinokourov said Aru would likely race the Tour de France for the first time and Nibali would return to the Giro d’Italia, which he won in 2013.

Aru won the Vuelta a España in September and placed second in the Giro d’Italia in May, but has never raced the Tour. Nibali already took the title and the Tour’s famous blue porcelain Sèvre vase in 2014.

“It’s secure that Nibali and Aru will have two different programs,” Vinokourov told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. “Vincenzo is close to the Giro, and wants to return.

“Aru is 25 and progressing quickly. In two seasons, he placed third, fifth, second and first in the grand tours he’s raced. There’s no one like him at the moment. In two to three years he can win the Tour, and I’d like that he tries to do so right away.”

Nibali is one of cycling’s most complete packages. He is one of only six in history to have won all three grand tours — the 2010 Vuelta, the 2013 Giro, and the 2014 Tour. Besides that, out of the modern grand tour winners, he is the only one with a monument victory. Two weeks ago, following podium finishes in Milano-Sanremo (third) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (second) this year, he won Il Lombardia.

However, Nibali had a poor first half of the season. Vinokourov openly criticized him in the Tour, saying he should have his head checked. Nibali bounced back mid-Tour with a stage win at La Toussuire’s ski resort and a fourth-place overall finish. And of course, after being booted from the Vuelta a España for holding onto an Astana team car, he rebounded with three wins, including Lombardia.

Astana appears to be putting greater stock in Aru after its turbulent year with Nibali. The team renewed his contract through 2017, while Nibali’s is set to expire at the end of next year.

At a meeting next month with the team, Vinokourov will give the marching orders. He spoke with the two last week in Abu Dhabi about their goals.

“They are two big leaders who’ve won much,” Vinokourov said. “It’s right that each one has his own goal.”

He added that Nibali needs to be more “consistent” as a leader.

The Kazakh manager told VeloNews in Abu Dhabi, where Aru placed second overall in the four-day race that ended Sunday, he would meet with Astana sport directors Alexandre Shefer and Giuseppe Martinelli about 2016 this week.

“I’m not stressed about it,” Vinokourov said.

Vinokourov, who retired after a racing career that included being booted from the Tour for doping and winning the 2012 Olympic road race, said the Kazakh capital’s sponsorship is secure through 2018.

“It’s important for our country, it’s big publicity for the 2017 EXPO in Astana,” he said.

“We had an economic crisis this year, but Astana also invested in our cycling team. The contract will run a minimum of three years, 2016, 2017 and 2018.”