The performances from Italian national champion Vincenzo Nibali and his teammates in the 2014 Tour de France so far have resulted in nothing but smiles at the Astana team bus. One day after the cobbled stage, Astana general manager Alexandre Vinokourov was happily moving around the bus ahead of the start of today's stage 6.
Gone were the worries from the former rider turned manager about a team leader who didn't perform as a leader. Nibali failed to win a single race this season up until the national championships, on the eve of the Tour de France. After the Classics, Nibali was said to have received a letter from Vinokourov in which the Astana general manager made clear that Nibali's performances were not in accordance with his earnings.
"There were no doubts, only small concerns," Vinokourov told Cyclingnews. "As a rider, I always wanted to have some small results before the Tour. We and particularly the press asked a lot from Vincenzo. Things didn't always happen like we hoped, but there were always small things that bothered him. We don't put a lot pressure on him. Even in the Dauphiné, he was still a little behind schedule. We remained focused and trained in the mountains. His national title boosted his morale a lot. His win in the second stage was his answer for the outside world."
Vinokourov was asked to describe his team leader and his reply showed his confidence in the 29-year-old Italian champion, especially his capability to remain calm.
"He's intelligent. He's focused. Last year at the Giro, he was the favourite on home soil and he showed he can do it with the team around him. This year, the goal is to win the Tour de France. Vincenzo is still calm in his head. Some riders would no longer sleep, but he's the other way around. No pressure. We continue like before."
The peloton no longer features last year's winner Chris Froome (Sky), who abandoned the race after two crashes during the fifth stage and a crash in the fourth stage. Vinokourov quickly realized that it would be hard for Froome to survive the stage over the cobbles. "He was unlucky. I figured it would be hard for him to pass over the cobbles after his crash. I retired two years, and I know that with an injured wrist it's hard in these stages. His morale was completely gone," Vinokourov said.
The biggest rival for Nibali is now Alberto Contador, according to the Kazakh star. "There's still Alberto, and riders like [Andrew] Talansky and also [Alejandro] Valverde. They lost time yesterday, but the Tour is not at all won yet. They say you can lose the Tour on the cobbles but for us it was a first step towards the victory. The team did a fantastic job. They worked since two o'clock in the morning to take care of the bikes, etc.
Vinokourov was confident his team would be ready to defend the yellow jersey during the following days. That worked out without issues during the sixth stage to Reims, and Vino was already looking forward to the mountains.
"There's two more days of suffering in the rain and then there's the mountains. Saturday, Sunday and especially Monday on the "quatorze juillet" are nice stages. The best defence is to attack. The team understands that we're capable of winning the Tour de France. The yellow jersey gives even more motivation to work for each other."
Having lieutenant Jakob Fuglsang in second place of the general classification at short distance from Nibali offers the Astana team a good tactical position. The Danish press would have loved to hear that Fuglsang would receive the chance to aim for the win, too, but Vinokourov didn't suggest that is an option.
"The team did a fantastic job, especially Fuglsang and with Westra who rode a great stage. Jakob is now runner-up at two seconds, which gives a tactical advantage in the mountains. For now it's too early to say much as he's here to work for Vincenzo. He's important for Vincenzo in the mountains. Jakob improved well in the last few years. He's got great potential. I don't want to get to personal and say it has to go like this or that. Only the first place matters, not having second and third on the podium."