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Astana unfazed by Nibali losing Vuelta lead

Astana sports director Alexandre Shefer said Vincenzo Nibali's relinquishing of the top spot overall to Ireland's Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) had little effect overall on their plans for the Vuelta a España.

Nibali had held the jersey since stage four's uphill finish at Fisterra and is considered the top favourite for overall victory in a race he already won back in 2010.

Nibali responded strongly to attacks by American Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard), previously the closest challenger overall, but then lost contact with Roche and several other top favourites when the lead group disintegrated under repeated attacks by Ivan Basso (Cannondale) close to the summit finish of stage eight. The Italian finally finished sixteenth on the stage, 27 seconds behind NetApp-Endura's Leopold Konig, and has now slid to fourth overall, 18 seconds down on Roche.

Shefer played down the importance of Nibali ceding time to almost all his top rivals, albeit seconds rather than minutes, saying, "We are neither disappointed nor relieved at losing the red jersey on stage eight. This is a long Vuelta, with plenty of time left out on the road.

"The lack of the jersey tomorrow is made up for by the change in the calculus of tactics in the days to come, and the one liberating factor it will have on our team's obligation to defend outright against the whole peloton instead of choose our method and place to attack," Shefer added in the team statement.

If the second half of the statement is put into rather plainer English, it arguably means that Astana has gone from being the target for all the other teams to beat to being one more contender for the overall in Madrid.

At this point in the game, with more than two weeks of very hard racing including seven more summit finishes, this will give the team an opportunity to a) save energy and b) regain the lead when it suits them. As Shefer points out, the race to Madrid is a long one, with the daunting slopes of the Angliru, seen by many as the deciding factor, just 24 hours before the final curtain falls on the Vuelta.

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