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Nibali: This is a different Astana

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has answered every question asked of him on the road at this Tour de France, and in his post-stage press conferences, too, he has engaged with doping questions at greater length than some of his predecessors in the maillot jaune.

The issue of riding for a team with Alexandre Vinokourov as general manager continues to linger, however. On Monday – the seven-year anniversary of his positive test for blood doping at the 2007 Tour – Vinokourov refused to discuss whether he had learnt anything from his expulsion and subsequent ban, telling reporters, "2007 is in the past."

It is an attitude that is hardly in keeping with the supposed new era of openness and truth that cycling is attempting to enact, and it jars with Nibali's own professed stance as a standard-bearer for anti-doping. In his press conference in Bergerac on Friday, the yellow jersey was asked if he would like Vinokourov to speak more openly about his doping.

"I think he's already done it, he's explained and he's paid for it too. He's served his suspension and come back," Nibali said. "Astana is a new team, with a new staff and a new group of riders, much younger than before. It’s a different team to before.

"I can only say that currently Vinokourov is team manager and the principal sponsor, Astana, has tried to give a change in direction to the whole team, and is trying to have its name proudly carried throughout the world."

Italian chasing time trial victory

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that when Nibali defended his overall lead atop the Alto de Angliru on the penultimate day of the 2010 Vuelta a España, he had to be reminded on the podium that there was still the final stage to Madrid to come the following afternoon.

Certainly, it would be wholly understandable if Nibali thought that this year's Tour de France was already over, especially after he claimed his fourth stage win on the final leg to Hautacam, a victory that left him 7:10 clear in the overall standings.

Speaking in Bergerac on Friday, however, Nibali dismissed the idea that he would ride simply to avoid risks during the penultimate day time trial to Perigueux, suggesting instead, that he would look to add to his haul from this Tour.

"There won't be a lot of risks tomorrow in the first place, because it’s a time trial and we're riding alone. To honour my team, the race and this jersey, we must give it due importance and I’ll ride it like a leader," Nibali said.

Friday's transition stage to Bergerac posed more problems that could have been anticipated, as heavy rain showers in the final two hours of racing contributed to treacherous conditions. A crash seemed inevitable, but Nibali managed to side step the spill that occurred in the final three kilometres.

"After the five kilometre to go banner, I started to drop back because when you get to that point, you move aside and leave space for the sprinters," Nibali said. "The important thing was not to take any risks, although on a day like today, the rain made things even more difficult in that sense."

Since retaking the yellow jersey atop La Planche des Belles Filles on the day of Alberto Contador's abandon, it has seemed that only misfortune could halt Nibali's progression towards overall victory. For almost three weeks, the Sicilian has shown no tangible signs of weakness and he confirmed that the impression was true.

"I wouldn't know," he said, when asked to describe his toughest moment of the race. "I've felt good every day – some days I've felt more so, others a bit less, but my legs have always responded well."

Before leaving his press conference, Nibali offered his condolences to the family of 14-year-old Alessandro Magi, who was knocked off his bike and killed while training near Cremona, in northern Italy on Thursday. “"He was only 14-years-old and maybe he was a boy who had a lot of dreams," Nibali said. “"It's affected all of us."

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Head of Features

Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.