Vincenzo Nibali says that there was no fanfare when the Astana riders and staff found out that the team would keep their WorldTour licence. On Thursday the UCI confirmed that, following a long and drawn out saga that has embroiled the team since last season, Astana would remain at the top level. As team leader and reigning Tour de France champion, Nibali was the focus of much of the attention but the Italian says he feels no different since the announcement.
“There was no party,” Nibali said during a press conference at the team’s hotel. “We heard the news at lunchtime yesterday, I’m happy and now we can continue as normal. It hasn’t taken any pressure off my shoulders because there never was any pressure. It’s only the media that made this up.”
The reaction to the news is in stark contrast to the celebrations during the team’s training camp in mid-December when they were initially awarded the licence. It was much more subdued at their Ardennes base camp, with a cheery wave from Nibali to the waiting journalists as he walked to dinner as raucous as it got.
With the decision now confirmed the team can turn their focus back to racing and the matter in hand of Liège-Bastogne-Liège this weekend. The team will go in with two leaders this Sunday in Nibali, who finished second in 2012, and Jakob Fuglsang. Nibali has been aggressive throughout the Ardennes campaign, most notably at Amstel Gold when he attacked inside the final 30 kilometres forcing a frantic chase behind. With the course much more selective than it was last season, Nibali and Astana are looking to put the pressure on their rivals once again.
“We need to make the race tough,” he said. “We saw a similar race last year with 60-70 riders on Saint-Nicolas and this year the route has changed again. Many riders obliged to try before, but it depends on the tactics from other teams but we’ll also try to evaluate the course at that moment.
“It’s a very open course which gives you many opportunities and many possible scenarios, it’s perhaps the toughest Classic, of course I’ve never done Paris-Roubaix or Flanders, but of the ones in this part that I always do.”
There will be plenty of competition for the top spot as the race rolls into Liège, with Etixx-QuickStep, Movistar, and Orica-GreenEdge performing well this week, but Nibali sees two clear contenders for victory this Sunday.
“It’s difficult to say how others will be but I think that overall (Michal) Kwiatkowski will be in competition with (Alejandro) Valverde,” Nibali said. “It’s clear that Valverde, in the condition we’ve seen, did great results in Amstel and Flèche, and at Liège he can wait until the end.”
After a week of blissful sunshine and almost perfect conditions for racing, the weather is expected to take a turn for the worst on Sunday, as rain is predicted. With bike handling skills that are among the best in the peloton, Nibali knows that a bit of rain could give him an advantage but he’d prefer it to be a dry race.
“I won’t do a rain dance but for sure the rain can give me something more. But it’s annoying for everyone, there’s less tactics and many riders hate riding in the rain.”