Vincenzo Nibali is preparing for the Tour de France in the Italian Dolomites, working intensely in the mountains in the hope he can find the power to respond to attacks by his big rivals Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.
The Italian struggled to be competitive at the recent Criterium du Dauphine, finishing seventh overall behind winner Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) but his coach Paolo Slongo is convinced that he can close the gap on his rivals in time for the decisive stages of the Tour de France.
"They're already at their best and can't improve anymore," Slongo suggested to Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Nibali has to reach 100% during the first week of the Tour de France, there's still a month until the key mountain stages of the Tour. I would have been worried if Nibali had been at his best at the Dauphine."
"Now's the time to do the high-intensity work, to give him what he needs. He's already recovered 10 watts at his threshold but he's still got some high-intensity work to do."
Slongo followed Nibali and his Astana teammates during training rides on a scooter and uses wireless telemetry to see Nibali's SRM data. The workouts are done on the slopes of the Valparola, Pordoi and San Pellegrino climbs, with the riders staying at the Rifugio Flora Alpina near the summit of the Passo San Pellegrino, at an altitude of 1900m. Nibali will stay in the Dolomites until the Italian national championships and ride both the time trial and the road race events.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport, the riders were woken at 6:15 in the morning for a surprise UCI Biological Passport blood test on Thursday, with the inspector apparently entering the riders' room to find the riders. The blood samples were then taken at a small table and chairs between two floors of the hotel in an area open to the public, with little regard for the rider's privacy. The riders and the Astana team did not comment directly on the tests, preferring to focus on their training.
"We simulate the finale of races and the attacks. I often tell Vincenzo: 'I'm Froome, come and get me,'" Slongo explained.
"The workouts last between 10-15 minutes, divided into jumps and accelerations. I accelerate every minute and then when I blow the horn, Vincenzo goes. Just like in a race, he's got to catch me and go past me."
Studying Froome's power data
Slongo revealed he has studied Froome's attacks in detail, using video content on the internet and television footage.
"I've studied his accelerations, how long they last and his cadence," he claimed
"Froome weighed between 65-66kg at the Dauphine, Contador was 63kg. They produced about 400-410 watts at threshold and when they attack, they can hold 430 watts for between 20-30 minutes. Froome accelerates for 20-30 seconds, with peaks of 450-480 wats. The he eases back and stays at 380-400 watts. Due to physiological limits, this phase can last between 10-15 minutes, not more."
Nibali has been fighting to find his best form all season and has yet to win a race. His last success was the Giro d'Italia in May 2013 but he remains confident for the rapidly approaching Tour de France.
"At the Dauphine Froome looked us in the eye and was determined to drop us," Nibali revealed.
"I managed to limit my losses pretty well, especially considering that I hadn't really done any high-end work and didn’t want to go too deep into the red. I'm confident, I can only get better."