Dane on Nibali, the yellow jersey and Vinokourov's email
Jakob Fulgsang has piloted Vincenzo Nibali over the cobblestones and helped shepherd him through the mountains in the first 10 days of the Tour de France, but his supporting duties didn't cease when the race paused in Besancon on Tuesday.
As journalists huddled around a table in a Kyriad hotel car park for Astana's rest day press conference, Fuglsang was briefly pressed into action as an impromptu interpreter, quietly translating a pair of questions into Italian for Nibali.
As ever, Nibali affected the air of a man utterly unperturbed by the burden of wearing the maillot jaune during the press conference, and Fulgsang told Cyclingnews afterwards that the Sicilian's calm was no front. Behind closed doors, too, Nibali remains unfazed.
"Sometimes you almost have the feeling that he doesn't even realise what is happening around him," Fulgsang said. "He's relaxed, he's laid back, he takes everything easy. There's no stress, not even with the yellow jersey.
"He's not the kind of guy who says 'I want this or I want that.' He doesn't always want to have to follow someone around in the peloton. Sometimes he prefers to cruise around on his own."
In Nibali's absence at last year's Tour, Fuglsang himself enjoyed the liberty to cruise, and his solo voyage carried him into seventh place overall in Paris. Sacrificing his ambitions in the biggest race of all - and just as he approaches his prime - could be source of frustration, but Fuglsang insists he is happy with his status.
"I think it would be different if he was riding to secure fourth place and I believed I could come fifth or sixth myself. But it's a lot easier when your captain is so strong and has a serious possibility of winning the Tour," Fuglsang said. "I knew from the beginning that this would probably be my task. I'm clear with the situation."
Fuglsang does, however, still harbour hopes of combining his domestique duties with another top 10 finish on general classification. A bout of illness as the Tour entered the Vosges saw the Dane slip to 12th place overall, but he remains hopeful of being able to recoup some of that lost ground in the Alps.
"There should still be possibilities for me to re-enter the top ten but I need to have the legs and, first of all, I need to support Vincenzo," said Fuglsang, who was blunt in his description of the illness that laid him low over the weekend. "I've never had it before in a stage race but more or less for 48 hours I was shitting water. I had diarrhoea and it becomes difficult to fill up when everything goes straight through.
"I lost some good time over the last three days especially because I was feeling empty at the end of the stages, and I wasn't able to fill up my deposits after the stages. So hopefully with this rest day and some easier stages coming up I will be able to get back to where I was before my problem."
After little over a week of racing, Nibali and Astana find themselves in a position of pre-eminence that they could scarcely have dreamt of beforehand. The Sicilian is 2:23 clear, and his two biggest rivals, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, have both crashed out of the race.
Fuglsang was unconcerned by the prospect of defending the overall lead for another two weeks, and pointed out that it is now nigh on impossible to engineer a position whereby Astana could "lend" the yellow jersey to another rider, as they did with Tony Gallopin on Sunday.
"The problem is that you need to find someone who is still up there on GC but is not a GC rider, and with the stages we've done already, there's not many of them left - unless you send guys who are 25 minutes down, but I don't see how a breakaway can get to the finish with 25 minutes," Fuglsang said, ruling out the prospect of a repeat of Oscar Pereiro's famous break in 2006.
In any case, one imagines that such a manoeuvre would not be well-received by the upper levels of Astana management. Ahead of the Tour de Romandie, general manager Alexandre Vinokourov sent an email lamenting the team's lowly standing in the WorldTour rankings - reported initially as a reprimand of Nibali alone - but 10 weeks on, the overall complexion of the team's season is very suddenly very different.
"It was a general email for the whole team, saying that for a team with our power it wasn't good enough to be 18th in the world ranking," Fuglsang said. "And I think you can only agree with that - if we were 18th at the end of the season, there would have been something wrong. The email was more like a reminder. I think in the end of the day, it's been blown up and there was nothing dramatic about it."
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