Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has hinted that he may not have the form to be an overall contender at the Vuelta a Espana, but hopes to end the final Grand Tour of the season at his best so that he can lead the Italian team at the world road race championships in Florence.
Nibali struggled to be competitive at the Tour of Poland but looked far better at the recent Vuelta a Burgos, finishing third overall.
He insisted that he is on the way back to a peak of form similar to the one he had in May when he dominated the Giro d'Italia, and is confident of handling two Grand Tours in one season. However he pointed out that he is no Superman and hinted he might not be able to challenge for overall victory against the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and fellow Italian Ivan Basso (Cannondale).
"I know I'm on my way back to being the rider I was at the Giro d'Italia and to be honest, I never doubted that I would," he told Gazzetta dello Sport.
"I know I can handle two Grand Tours in one season. In 2010 I finished third overall at the Giro d'Italia and I won the Vuelta, riding consistently well in both races. I've developed and matured since then, so I know I can do it."
"But I'm no robot and neither is any rider. I haven't got a Superman cape with an S on it. You can't always be up there in every race and people know how busy I was after winning the Giro. It's normal that you pay for it in a hard race like the Tour of Poland, especially in those two tough opening stages."
2010 Vuelta winner
Nibali won the Vuelta in 2010, when still a relatively young Grand Tour contender. He now has the extra pressure of being the team leader at Astana and for Italy for the world championships on home roads. He was forced to travel to Kazakhstan twice in June after his Giro d'Italia victory and missed close to a month of consistent, quality training. He struggled in Poland but showed some form in Burgos. However he is realistic about his form and goals for the Vuelta.
"To be honest, I'm going to take things day by day and see what happens. I hope to start the Vuelta at 75-80% and I should come out of it at my best. You can hold your form afterwards because I had a good worlds in Geelong three years ago," he said.
"I want to go for the overall and I'm proud to be one of a few Italians (five) that have won the Vuelta. But if it's not possible, I'll go on the hunt for stage wins because I definitely want to leave my mark on the race."
The Vuelta starts with a team time trial in the north-western Galicia region of Spain on August 24.
Nibali will lead the Astana team, with Gazzetta dello Sport suggesting that both Jani Brajkovic and Jakob Fuglsang will also be in the nine-rider line-up as possible GC contenders. Paolo Tiralongo, Andrey Zeits, Andrei Grivko and Tanel Kangert. Italians Valerio Agnoli and Alessandro Vanotti are also likely to make the team with Dmitri Gruzdev and Maxim Iglinskiy as alternatives.