Vincenzo Nibali has admitted that he is unsure of his prospects in Sunday's UCI Road World Championships road race in Innsbruck, but his Bahrain-Merida teammate Domenico Pozzovivo is in line to play a more prominent role than previously anticipated in the Italian squad.
Nibali is the nominal leader of the Italian team alongside Gianni Moscon, who has won the Coppa Agostoni and Giro della Toscana since returning from a five-week suspension in mid-September. Since fracturing a vertebra in a crash on Alpe d'Huez at the Tour de France a little over two months ago, Nibali has battled to recover from his injury and build form for the Worlds.
The Sicilian completed the Vuelta a España earlier this month but expressed frustration at his condition as the race drew to a close. Nibali raced the Memorial Marco Pantani last weekend and joined the Italian elite men's squad at a training camp in Torbole, Trentino on Monday. The azzurri undertook their last, long training ride of five and a half hours on Wednesday afternoon. Nibali, Moscon et al arrived in Innsbruck on Thursday.
"It's been a difficult road to get as far as here, just like it was difficult coming out of the Vuelta. For me, to be able to ride with my teammates at this training camp was important," Nibali said before leaving Torbole, according to Tuttobiciweb. "I don't have any point of reference from the races between the Vuelta and today, so this Worlds will be like a shot in the dark. But I feel good and the atmosphere in the team is perfect."
Pozzovivo will make his debut for the Italian senior team in Sunday's road race, though he was a reserve in Florence in 2013. He previously lined out for the Italian under-23 squad at the Verona Worlds in 2004, placing 4th after being dropped by eventual winner Kanstantsin Siutsou on the final ascent of the Torricelle. Pozzovivo placed third at the Giro della Toscana, though he was outshone by the eventual winner Moscon on the climb of Monte Serra and again in the finishing sprint.
"I was with the national team in Florence too. I had come 6th at the Vuelta but the coach [Paolo Bettini – ed.] made different choices," Pozzovivo told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Maybe it was because I was riding for a French team [AG2R La Mondiale – ed.] or because I hadn't shown much in the Classics before then. For us climbers, there aren't many suitable Worlds courses."
The Innsbruck course features more than 4,000 metres of total climbing. The elite men will tackle six laps of the Olympia circuit before taking in one ascent of the vicious steep climb of Höll. Pozzovivo and Nibali's Bahrain-Merida teammate Franco Pellizotti has been named as the regista, or road captain, of the Italian team.
"I know that I can give some guarantees and I have the right experience. The condition is there too," said Pozzovivo, who said that he will use a 34-tooth inner ring on the course. "I imagine a calm start with a break, and then on the circuits the second ranks will start to move, and from there it will be a game of chess. But I think that in the end there'll be a natural selection."
Dario Cataldo stressed the importance of Pozzovivo's role on Sunday, telling La Gazzetta, "We'll have to pay a lot of attention to how we play the Pozzovivo card because he's going very strongly. Domenico could be the man who changes the race. Nibali and Moscon are our leaders, but he could be something more than an alternative."
Moscon was handed a five-week ban by the UCI following his expulsion from the Tour de France for directing a punch at Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Samsic). He returned to action on September 15, winning the Coppa Agostoni and then landing the Giro della Toscana four days later. Cassani withheld him Wednesday's time trial, preferring to have him at the Italian team training camp this week.
"We have expert men who know how to read the race perfectly," Moscon said, according to La Gazzetta. "We Italians have an attachment to the jersey that riders in other nations don't have."