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Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on his way to winning stage 18 atop Hautacam
Italian coach admits Ponferrada course does not suit Tour winner
After competing in a series of criteriums in Belgium and the Netherlands after the Tour, Nibali is currently on holiday in Sicily and is due to resume training in earnest at his home in Lugano next week, although he is scheduled to visit Kazakhstan at the behest of his Astana team from August 26-30.
Nibali will return to competitive action at the Trittico Lombardo series of races, which take place closer to the Worlds this year, starting with the Coppa Bernocchi on September 16. After the subsequent Coppa Agostoni and Tre Valli Varesine, Nibali will then ride the Memorial Pantani and GP Prato on the weekend of September 20-21, possibly as part of an Italian selection, as his Astana team is not currently scheduled to race there.
“It’s impossible to say now that Nibali will be at 100 per cent for the Worlds,” Cassani told Gazzetta dello Sport. “But mindset and desire go a long way in sport, and Vincenzo has been clear in his desire to be there, and my Italian team will be around him.”
While Nibali seems a natural leader for the squadra azzurra, he is not necessarily a natural fit for the Ponferrada course. The circuit in Spain features two climbs but is not as obviously demanding as last year’s parcours in Florence. Fast finishers with the ability to survive on the climbs – and Peter Sagan in particular – are among those touted to shine. Cassani acknowledged that the onus will be on his Italian team to make the race as selective as possible and divest the fast men of their teammates ahead of the final lap.
“On this course, you need to invent something because if we get to the finish with 30 riders – as many are predicting – then we’re already beaten. Our chances will grow if we make the race more demanding,” Cassani said.
“It’s not a course for Nibali but we can try to make it become one, maybe by instigating a break of 8 or 10 riders midway through the race and forcing the others to chase.”
Although the 18.2km circuit features two climbs, Cassani described it as “hard but not selective,” pointing out that the first, five-kilometre climb will not be difficult enough to drop the sprinters. The short, sharp final climb, meanwhile, is “a brutal two-minute effort,” according to Cassani. “If you have a handful of seconds at the top, you’ll go all the way.”
The Ponferrada Worlds will mark Cassani’s first race in charge of the Italian team since taking over as 'commissario tecnico' from Paolo Bettini, and he is glad that there will be no point-to-point section of the course before the finishing circuit this year. It is the first time this has occured since Mendrisio in 2009.
“It helps us. From Melbourne onwards, the point-to-point section has almost been a warm-up,” he said.
Cassani listed Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Oscar Gatto (Cannondale) and Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) as likely members of the team, while Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo) seems set to take on the role of regista, or road captain, a position Cassani himself held in the 1980s and 1990s under the management of Alfredo Martini.
“I did the Worlds nine times and I know well that it’s hinges on moments – and Daniele knows when to seize them,” Cassani said.
Nibali’s Astana teammate Alessandro Vanotti also seems likely to make the cut, while Cassani is also optimistic that Fabio Aru could have a part to play. “Aru is top of my list and I’m convinced that he will come out of the Vuelta in great shape,” he said.
Cassani appeared cooler, however, on Filippo Pozzato’s prospects of lining up in Ponferrada. The Lampre-Merida man fell short in the spring Classics and was overlooked by his team for both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.
“Pozzato is an enigma. Up to now he has done very little,” Cassani said.
Pozzato's Lampre teammate Diego Ulissi had originally seemed likely to be part of Cassani's plans for the Ponferrada Worlds, but the Italian has not raced since it was revealed in June that he had returned a positive test for Salbutamol at the Giro d'Italia. Ulissi visited Lausanne for further testing in July and has not been formally sanctioned by the UCI, although he was provisionally suspended by his Lampre-Merida team.