Nibali to lead Liquigas at the Tour of California

US stage race to fill important gap between Classics, Tour de France

Vincenzo Nibali will lead team Liquigas at the Tour of California, May 16-23. The 25 year-old Italian says he will be in perfect form for the race after the Ardennes Classics and will use the American event to build for the 2010 Tour de France.

"It's an important race for our bike sponsor, Cannondale," said Nibali. "I will aim to win a stage and if there is chance I will try to win the overall. It will be hard with rivals like Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and David Zabriskie."

California became part of Nibali's plans after the team met at a camp in Moena, Italy. Liquigas asked that he skip the Giro d'Italia to focus on the Classics, race California and continue to develop at the Tour de France.

Nibali finished 18th overall in his debut Tour de France last year. This season, he rode steadily to claim a seventh place, 7:35 behind winner Alberto Contador.

"I'm ready for the pressure at the Tour. I've already had to deal with it for many years here in Italy. To help me deal with it, I am working on the small details to better myself, like in the time trial. I've suffered in the time trials as I've become a better climber."

Nibali will be one of Liquigas' three captains - with Ivan Basso and Roman Kreuziger - at the Tour, July 3 to 25.

"The road will decide who the captain is," he continued. "But we won't be like Astana, with the infighting between Armstrong and Contador.

"Kreuziger and I will give Basso more space. He's had more experience and demands respect because he's older."

Basso finished second overall at the Tour de France in 2005 and third in 2004.

Nibali will start his season in Argentina at the Tour San Luis, January 18 to 24. He decided to begin early since a crash and fractured collarbone forced him to end his season early and skip the Vuelta a España this year.

The Vuelta will be Nibali's second Grand Tour of the year next season.

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