After a subdued opening to the season, Nibali showed that he is hitting form at the right moment by landing his first victory in over a year at the Italian national championships on Saturday.
Third overall in 2012, Nibali will aim to better that result this time around. Although he is aware that Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) are the two principal favourites for overall honours, there is plenty of scope for the Sicilian’s brand of invention on this year’s route.
Michele Scarponi was signed during the off-season to bolster Nibali’s support in July and he arrives in Leeds fresher than otherwise anticipated. The veteran began the Giro d’Italia as Astana’s co-leader but was forced to abandon as a result of the injuries he picked up in the mass crash at Monte Cassino on stage 6.
7th overall in Nibali’s absence last year, Jakob Fulgsang takes on a supporting role in 2014. The Dane has been consistently strong so far this season, placing in the top ten at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Tanel Kangert emerged as Nibali’s most able lieutenant at last year’s Giro and Vuelta a España, helping himself to 13th and 11th overall, respectively, in the process, and the Estonian should again be prominent at the Tour.
Lieuwe Westra, who arrived from Vacansoleil-DCM during the off-season, also makes the team, along with Andriy Grivko, Kazakh riders Dmitriy Gruzdev and Maxim Iglinskiy, and Alessandro Vanotti, one of Nibali’s most trusted domestiques.
Astana team for the Tour de France: Vincenzo Nibali, Michele Scarponi, Jakob Fuglsang, Lieuwe Westra, Tanel Kangert, Alessandro Vanotti, Andriy Grivko, Dmitriy Gruzdev and Maxim Iglinskiy.