Italian national coach Davide Cassani has confirmed that Vincenzo Nibali will not be part of the team for this year's World Championships road race, but he remains upbeat about Italy's chances in Bergen after Matteo Trentin's stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana and Elia Viviani's run of success in sprint finishes.
Nibali was under consideration as a team leader because of his huge status in Italian cycling, but his crash on the descent of El Cordal on the penultimate stage of the Vuelta has left him with a sore rib and little desire to be in Bergen in a race that is suited to Classics riders and sprinters.
"I have to understand how I'm feeling and see what I've done to my ribs, because I felt the blow," Nibali told La Gazzetta dello Sport on Sunday. "I'll decide based on that. Certainly, having spoken with the national coach, I realised that the course wasn't suited to me and that the national team already has the right pieces. What role could I play?"
On Tuesday afternoon the Bahrain-Merida team confirmed that an x-ray had confirmed a micro-fracture in a left rib, with Nibali ordered to rest for several days.
Cassani will reduce his 16-name long list to the final 11-rider squad (nine starters plus two reserves) on Thursday after the one-day Coppa Bernocchi race. He has accepted that Nibali will not be in the final squad.
The riders in contention include Trentin, Viviani, Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), Gianni Moscon (Team Sky), Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Daniel Oss (BMC), Marco Canola (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac), Andrea Pasqualon (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Salvatore Puccio (Team Sky), Enrico Gasparotto (Bahrain-Merida), Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates), Davide Villela (Cannondale-Drapac) and road captain Daniele Bennati (Movistar).
"I've spoken to Vincenzo and his coach Paolo Slongo. Unfortunately the crash influenced his decision. He was struggling to breath and has to rest for several days," Cassani told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"It's only an arrivederci because he's already thinking about the 2018 Worlds [in Innsbruck, Austria – ed.] That suits him a lot more."
Italy has a long tradition of success in the World Championships but the professional men have not won the rainbow jersey since 2008 when Alessandro Ballan claimed the title at home in Varese, the squadra azzurra's third success in a row following Paolo Bettini's back-to-back wins of 2006 and 2007.
With Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet and Edvald Boasson Hagen the expected favourites for Bergen, Cassani played down Italy's chances this year but insisted that his riders were united.
"In Ponferrada [in 2014] and Richmond , we knew we didn't have much of a chance, while last year we got a good placing [Giacomo Nizzolo finished fifth – ed.] even if we knew winning would be difficult," Cassani said, adding that Nibali crashed out on the last descent of the Rio Olympics while at the head of the race.
"We started the season slowly but now were winning a lot and winning well, it's the best moment of the season for Italian riders. That's good to know and encouraging. Riders like Viviani and Trentin are at their very best.
"This is the strongest team I've ever managed even if other riders are the favourites. I'm talking about Sagan, Van Avermaet and Boasson Hagen. Expect for perhaps Vermote, all the Belgian team could win. It won't be easy for us but I feel lucky.
"My riders are strong and intelligent. They know that their unity is their strength, and that together they can achieve a result that isn't possible alone. I don't see any friction between them."