Nibali unburdened by pressure ahead of new season

Sicilian welcomes arrival of Scarponi and Slongo at Astana

Vincenzo Nibali has said that he is not feeling under additional pressure for the 2014 campaign in the wake of his Giro d’Italia victory last season. At Astana’s team presentation in Rezzato, near Brescia, on Wednesday, the Sicilian confirmed that he will forgo the Giro this year in order to focus on the Tour de France.

“The pressure is more or less the same as last year. It’s normal that after the Giro d’Italia win the pressure has gone up a little bit, but it’s all the same to me and I’m very tranquillo,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport.

While Giro victory was the centrepiece of Nibali’s 2013 season, the year also yielded overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro del Trentino, second place overall at the Vuelta a España and fourth place at the world championships after an aggressive showing.

This year, Nibali will build towards challenging Chris Froome and Team Sky’s pre-eminence at the Tour de France, and looks set to follow a slightly different early-season race programme, adding Critérium International to his calendar and swapping Tirreno-Adriatico for Paris-Nice.

“I won’t say the expectation is to do the same season as last year, but I want to do something good,” Nibali said. “Of course last year was a great season, when I started very strongly with the win at Tirreno and then won Trentino and the Giro, and came second at the Vuelta, and it will be very hard to repeat it.”

At 29 years of age, Nibali is approaching the peak of his powers and, on paper at least, the overall level of his Astana team has gone up a notch for the coming year. The Kazakh squad has added Michele Scarponi, Lieuwe Westra and Mikel Landa to a cadre of stage racing talent that already included Jakob Fuglsang, Tanel Kangert, Fabio Aru and Paolo Tiralongo.

“Michele Scarponi is a fantastic person. He puts you in good humour and from the first training camp, he slotted into the team very well,” Nibali said. “His role is to help me at the Tour, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a leader in other races and I’ll be there to help him.”

Nibali also welcomed the arrival of Paolo Slongo from Cannondale as the team’s trainer. He had worked closely with Slongo during his time at Liquigas, and was pleased to be reunited with his coach after a season apart.

“I would have liked to have had him by my side last year, but he had other contractual obligations, so I got by a bit by myself and with [Astana trainer Maurizio] Mazzoleni,” Nibali told Tuttobici. “Paolo even came to Sicily and I did physical tests with him. Needless to say, we have big ambitions and we’re ready for the challenge.”

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