Vincenzo Nibali was often asked about doping at the Tour de France and the questioned and the scrutiny of the ethics of his Astana team intensified when the Iglinskiy brothers tested positive for EPO in the summer and a young Kazakhstani rider who rode as a trainee with Astana in the final part of the season, failed a test while riding the Tour de l'Avenir.
In the second part of this exclusive interview with Cyclingnews, Nibali gives his opinion on the doping cases, and on the barrage of criticism the Astana team has faced. He defends team manager Alexandre Vinokourov in spite of Vinokourov's past - he was suspended for blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France - and says he is favour of the team being part of the MPCC. Nibali also analyses the Astana team roster for 2015 and talks about his rivalry with fellow Italian Fabio Aru and his Grand Tour rivals Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana Tejay van Garderen, Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky.
In part one of the interview published on Tuesday, Nibali confirmed that he will focus solely on the Tour de France next season, sacrificing a chance of riding the Giro d'Italia to please his sponsors and employers at Astana. He also looks back at the emotions of winning the 2014 Tour de France.
Cyclingnews: You dominated the headlines in July by winning the Tour de France but then the double EPO positives of the Iglinskiy brothers and the issues with the MPCC sparked a lot of questions and a lot of criticism of the team. What 's your opinion on what happened?
Vincenzo Nibali: It's been talked about so much that I'm starting to sick of it all to be honest. It was an external case, a family affair and nothing to do with the team. I don't think the whole team should be blamed or punished for something stupid they did. The Astana team took some serious decisions after what happened and has paid the price.
People think that what happened (with the Iglinskiy brothers) was because of a problem within the team but that's not the case. When people do things wrong these days, it's of their own doing. It's a personal decision that puts everything at risk for themselves, their reputation, their family, their contracts, everything. It's really stupid to think someone would risk doing that in this day and age. They're also stupid because everyone knows that the tests done today can be tested in years to come for other substances and so there's little chance for people to dope and get away with it.
CN: Do you think Alexandre Vinokourov's past and his positive for blood doping at the Tour de France also cast a shadow on the team and even on your success this season?
VN: What's Vino got to do with all of this? I don't think he's involved in any way. It's right that he's responsible as the Astana team manager for what they did but not for his own past. He's paid the price for his own past and has been allowed back into the sport by the rules of the sport, just as a lot of other people have been.
CN: What's your relationship with Vinokourov like? Sometimes it seems things are quite tense and that you don't agree on race programmes and other choices made in the team.
VN: In truth, I get on pretty well with Vino. He can be blunt, but what's important is that he makes decision and sticks to them. I prefer that to someone who is indecisive and hesitant.
I've won two Grand Tour while at Astana and the team has allowed me to form my own group of riders and staff within the team. That's important for me and shows they've put their faith in me. They've shown they're against doping by joining the MPCC and accepting all the anti-doping rules such as the Biological Passport. What more can I ask for from my team?
CN: Are you in favour of the Astana team being in the MPCC?
VN: Yes, even if it can make things more complicated for us the riders. But if it helps in the fight against doping, then I'm ready to accept it. I think all the riders feel the same and we've accepted everything that has been proposed to make cycling more credible. But one thing I don't like is that when there are problems, it's always the riders who pay the highest price. That's not fair.
The 2015 Astana team and Grand Tour rivals
CN: The Astana team seems stronger for 2015, are you happy with the riders that have joined the team?
VN: Yes. We've tried to strengthen the team for the spring Classics as well as the Grand Tours with people like Boom, Cataldo, Malacarne and Rosa. But we've got a big, long race calendar, like lots of other teams, so it's normal to have a strong roster.
CN: Will the Grand Tour squad be split between you and Aru?
VN: I'm sure there will be a group for the Classics, a group for the Giro and a group for the Tour. I think that's logical. The Vuelta squad will probably be based on who is on form after that. That's how it usually works.
CN: Turning to your Grand Tour rivals, I'd like to ask what you think about them. You seem set to focus on the Tour de France again in 2015 but Alberto Contador has confirmed he is going for the Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double.
VN: To be honest, If I was Contador, I'd do the same thing. It's risky because he could win the Giro but then struggle at the Tour. But after winning several Grand Tours, going for the double is a new challenge. We'll see if he can do it. If anyone can do it, Alberto can.
CN: Chris Froome has hinted that he might miss the Tour de France, but he will probably be your biggest rival come July. Do you think he can bounce back after his difficult 2014 Tour? Do you think his crashes will affect him in the future?
VN: Froome definitely crashed a lot this year, I noticed that he even crashed even in the Vuelta. But crashes are part of racing. I crashed twice in a week this year and at the world championships. It happens. At the Tour de France I almost went down on the stage over the cobbles. A teammate crashed in front of me but I managed to avoid him. You've got to stay focussed and concentrated in races but in a split second you you can slip out or some one can crash in front of you. Chris was fine in 2013 and won the Tour but then crashed out this year. I think he'll put his problems of 2014 behind and make a clean start in 2015.
CN: What do you think of Nairo Quintana? He's a pure climber but was very strong as he won the Giro. He seems to have real character.
VN: I've never gone head to head with Quintana in a Grand Tour but I saw how he's performed against Aru and Rigoberto Uran at the Giro. He's a fighter that's for sure but all of us are. We perhaps just show it in different ways. I'm more laid back most of the time but everyone in the team knows how determined I am in races. I'm looking forward to going up against Quintana in 2015.
CN: Do you think the USA's Tejay Van Garderen could one day win the Tour de France?
VN: He was close to the podium this year but perhaps he still needs to develop and mature as a rider. He seems to be missing that little bit of a thing to fight for a podium but I couldn't say what it is. We'll see if he can finish on the podium in the next few years as he matures and improves.
CN: What about Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky? They'll probably lead the new Cannondale team at the Tour.
VN: I honestly think Dan Martin is more of a hilly Classics rider than a Grand Tour rider. He's a good climber but he's still got to show his Grand Tour credentials. Talansky crashed out of the Tour this year, so it was difficult to understand how well he could have done. I'm not sure how much the crash really affected him. We'll perhaps seem how he handles the pressure in 2015.
CN: you were surrounded by French riders on the final podium in Paris, do you consider Pinot, Peraud and even Bardet possible threats in 2015?
VN: The young guys like Pinot and Bardet impressed me a lot. There's also Warren Barguil, who did the Vuelta this year but I bet he'll show his ability in next year's Tour de France. There are going to be a lot of them to worry about next year and they'll have all the French fans supporting them. It should be good a Tour.
CN: One last question about the bike you ride. I noticed you were one of the few riders to still use Campagnolo mechanical gears. Is there a specific reason?
VN: I used the new Campagnolo electronic gears at the world championships and at the end of the season. I also use electronic components when I'm training at home but I like to have the option to choose in races. Both work really well but there's a slightly different feeling between the two systems.
In important races or stages I've opted to use mechanical gears to avoid any kind of risk, such as damage from a crash or if you chain jumps. If you make a mistake when using mechanical gears, you know is your fault, when you use electronic gears, it could be the computer's fault. When you prepare for a race like the Tour de France for months and look to minimise every risk and maximise every effort you make, I think it's normal to be careful and look at every tiny detail. Hence my decision to stay with what I know.