Vincenzo Nibali will get a taste of the cobbles in preparation this year's Tour de France by riding the Tour of Flanders, his Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli has revealed.
Stage five of the Tour de France includes a total of 15.4km of cobbles divided in nine different sections. For any overall contender it will be vital not to lose time and Martinelli thinks Nibali could even gain time on Froome even if he has never raced on the cobbles.
"Nibali doesn't know what it's like to race on the cobbles but of all the big-name overall contenders, he's the one who can gain the most," Martinelli told Gazzetta dello Sport.
"He's got better bike skills than Froome and Contador and so he's got to find out what it's like to fight for a place at the front, elbow to elbow with the riders who want to pass him on the cobbles, on the rough roads full of holes. He needs to get a taste of what it's like to hit the cobbles in the peloton and then ride at 50km/h strung out in a line. And the Tour of Flanders is perfect for that."
Martinelli claimed the 2013 Giro d'Italia winner was keen to test his bike skills on the cobbles, despite the risk of racing the Tour of Flanders along side the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and Tom Boonen on April 6.
"He's keen to give it a try because he's never ridden on the pave," Martinelli said. "He'll have Dutchman Westra with him, who grew up riding the pave."
"Vinokourov asked me if riding the Tour of Flanders is a bit risky but I told him that riding Paris-Nice or Criterium is also risky. Vincenzo will ride the Flanders for the cobbles, not to win it. He'll ride Amstel for the same reason. He's always suffered on narrow roads. He won't ride Fleche-Wallonne but will ride Liege-Bastogne-Liege."
Martinelli revealed that the Astana team to support Nibali at the Tour de France has been virtually decided.
It will include Scarponi, Vanotti, Fuglsang, Kessiakoff, Kangert, Brajkovic, Westra and one of the Kazakh riders Grivko or Gruzdev," he concluded.
Starting in San Luis, lots of time on Mount Teide
Nibali traveled to Argentina on Saturday to prepare for his season debut at the Tour de San Luis next week. He will then ride the Dubai Tour in early February and the Tour of Oman. He is due to become a father in late February but also penciled in his race programme are Paris-Nice, Milan-San Remo, Criterium International, the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Tour de Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine.
His preparation for the Tour de France will also include intense periods of training at altitude on Mount Teide on the Spanish island of Tenerife.
"He'll go to Teide two days after Criterium, only come down for the Tour of Flanders and then return there until riding the Amstel Gold Race," Martinelli explained.
"That's 18 days at altitude, followed by almost a month between the end of May and the start of the Tour de France, with the Dauphine (June 8-15) in the middle. If the weather's good, some of that could be at the Passo San Pellegrino in the Dolomites, because both Nibali and coach Paolo Slongo know the area well."