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Astana hoping to control the Tour of Lombardy to set up Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali did not ride the Gran Piemonte race on Friday but still spent several hours in the rain as autumn arrived early in northern Italy, studying the new finale of Il Lombardia with directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli to carefully prepare Astana’s race tactics.

After being expelled from the Vuelta a Espana for holding onto a team car, Nibali’s season seemed virtually over but he has got his season back on track by winning the Coppa Bernocchi and most recently Wednesday’s Tre Valli Varesine. His solo attack on the final climb of the one-day semi-Classic was enough to shake off his post-World Championships jet lag and confirm he will be a contender at Il Lombardia. With the Astana team dominating the Tre Valli Varesine and Diego Rosa also winning the Milan-Turin race, Astana is expected to be the strongest ream in the final Classic of the season, despite Fabio Aru and Paolo Tiralongo absent because they are riding the Tour of Almaty in Kazakhstan to please the team’s sponsors.

Nibali can count on support from Mikel Landa, in his final major race before moving to Team Sky, Diego Rosa, Michele Scarponi, Dario Cataldo, loyal domestiques Alessandro Vanotti and Valerio Agnoli, plus young Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez –the winner of the 2014 Tour de l’Avenir.

Nibali rode south into Italy from his home in Lugano, Switzerland to ride the final part of the new Il Lombardia course. He avoided the double-digit Muro of Sormano and focused on the Civiglio and the San Fermo -the two climbs expected to decide the race.

“It’s hard!!” he told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I rode the Civiglio and San Fermo della Battaglia, it’s a complex finish and will be even tougher if it rains.”

Nibali has ridden Il Lombardia eight times during his career but his Grand Tour goals mean he is rarely at his best. His best result was fifth in 2010, while he went on a long attack on the Ghisallo in 2011. Back then he was still with Liquigas. Now he is the Astana team leader and protected rider. He will have the support of Michele Scarponi, Mikel Landa, Milan-Turin winner Diego Rosa, Dario Cataldo, Alessandro Vanotti, Valerio Agnoli and talented young Colombia Miguel Angel Lopez.

Martinelli hoping to have strength in numbers

Directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli is confident Nibali can secure a result despite not having a fast sprint finish. He knows that Nibali will have to attack alone on the final San Fermo della Battaglia climb if he wants to become the first Italian since Damiano Cunego in 2008 to win a Il Lombardia. Martinelli drove behind Nibali during his reconnaissance ride, carefully noting how the climbs, their position, gradient and descents will influence Astana race tactics and that of their key rivals.

“The big favourites will fight it out on the San Fermo di Battaglia climb but other parts of the course will be vital,” Martinelli predicted to Gazzetta dello Sport.

“There’s a section of descent between the Sormano and the start of the Civiglio that will be crucial too. I predict that the peloton will be split into different groups after the Sormano. We’ve got to ensure we have at least two riders are with Nibali there. It’d be good to have Landa and Rosa and even Cataldo if he’s on a good day.”

“If we have numerical supremacy we can control things. We can stop riders getting back on by setting s fast pace and stop attack by outsiders and our big rivals. If we need to make a huge effort as a team to chase things, which could cost us dearly in the final kliometres.”

“There are a lot of contenders in the race and it will be a long, hard day on the road,” Martinelli warned. “Movistar is a threat with Valverde, Ag2r-La Mondiale has strength in depth with Pozzovivo, Bakelants and Vuillermoz, while the likes of Dan Martin, Majka and Pinot have been hiding in the last few Italian races. We can’t forget Gilbert either, who won in Como in 2011. But I’m confident we’ve got the ace up our sleeve.”

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