Fabio Aru’s illness and the pending UCI Licence Commission decision on Astana’s WorldTour status has prompted renewed speculation from Gazzetta dello Sport that Vincenzo Nibali could yet line up at the Giro d’Italia, which gets underway in San Remo on May 9.
Nibali rides Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this week before tackling the Tour de Romandie, and is then expected to take a break from racing before returning to ride the Critérium du Dauphiné ahead of the Tour de France. With Astana’s Giro leader Aru stricken by an intestinal complaint and forced to miss this week’s Giro del Trentino, however, manager Giuseppe Martinelli is reportedly keen that Nibali attempts the Giro-Tour de France double.
“It’s true. ‘Martino’ is pushing for me to ride the Giro too. But at the moment it’s not in my plans,” Nibali told Gazzetta. “But in 2010 too, I only found out three days beforehand [that I was riding] and I’d been off for ten days before it. I don’t know, we’ll have to see what the Commission decides too…”
Following an audit of Astana’s anti-doping policies by researchers from the University of Lausanne, the UCI requested that its Licence Commission revisit its earlier decision to award the Kazakhstani team WorldTour status for 2015 despite its spate of positive tests last year.
The Licence Commission’s pronouncement is expected later this week, though the soap opera seems unlikely to end there. If Astana’s licence is removed, the team will immediately appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, allowing it to continue racing in the WorldTour until a final decision is reached. In such circumstances, Nibali could be tempted to ride the Giro as something of a safety net, lest Astana be later excluded from the WorldTour ahead of the Tour de France.
For his part, Giuseppe Martinelli told Gazzetta that he believed Nibali could pull off the Giro-Tour double, which is already being attempted by Alberto Contador. “Vincenzo is the only one capable of succeeding,” Martinelli said. “I’ve analysed the matter closely. At the Giro, you need to go well in three stages – the time trial, the Mortirolo and the Colle delle Finestre. The race will be decided there.
“The Tour, on the other hand, will be decided in the last week, so you can come to the start a bit behind [in condition]. The path you could follow is the same as Pantani in 1998. I’m more than convinced.”
Astana directeur sportif – and Nibali’s trainer – Paolo Slongo took a rather different view when he spoke to Cyclingnews at the start of stage 2 of the Giro del Trentino in Dro on Wednesday morning, as he downplayed the prospects of Nibali participating in the Giro.
“I don’t think there’s a chance that Vincenzo could ride the Giro. I’ve read the article and perhaps the journalists from Gazzetta dello Sport was joking when he spoke to Nibali yesterday. Our race programmes are still the same as they were at the start of the season: Nibali at the Tour de France and Aru at the Giro d’Italia,” Slongo said.
Almost in response to Gazzetta’s story, which suggested that Aru’s illness would also prevent him from riding the Tour de Romandie and further compromise his Giro preparations, the Sardinian looked to allay fears in a short interview with Tuttobici on Wednesday morning, saying: “The Giro isn’t in doubt and I might even get out for a ride today already.”
“Aru has had this intestinal problem that stopped him riding the Giro del Trentino but his form was good, he’s missed four days training but there’s still 15 days to go to the Giro d’Italia. I don’t think our plans will change,” Slongo told Cyclingnews of the youngster’s illness.
The Astana coach also downplayed the notion that a negative decision from the UCI Licence Commission would have a bearing on whether or not Nibali lines up at the Giro.
“As far as I know, though I’m not directly involved in the licence process, the team has always said it’d appeal to CAS and so until CAS give a final verdict, the team will still be in the WorldTour and so be able to race,” Slongo said.
Slongo also suggested that Nibali or other riders on the team might consider legal action of their own if the UCI Licence Commission’s final decision damages their careers. “We’ll see what happens. Further down the road perhaps if the verdict goes against us, perhaps Nibali or someone, if they have a clear conscience, they might launch some kind of action against whoever stops them doing their job,” Slongo said.