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Nibali's dip in performance not due to links to new Bahrain team, says agent

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) enjoyed a quiet day during stage 18 in the peloton but remained the centre of attention as he awaits the results of his blood tests and medical checks that could decide if he quits the Giro d'Italia or fights on to save his race, perhaps targeting one of the two Alpine stages to Risoul in France on Friday and Sant'Anna di Vinadio on Saturday.

Nibali's problems have been dissected, analysed and discussed at length by Italian television and the media. The Sicilian was the only hope for an Italian victory at this year's Giro d'Italia and is currently the biggest name in Italian cycling.

Nibali finished 27th on the long stage to Pinerolo. He was part of the group of overall contenders that formed on the Pramartino climb and finished 13:24 down on stage winner Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep), crossing the line alongside  race leader Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo).

He was still cheered by the tifosi at the finish and Italian state television channel RAI, who asked him if he could still pull off some kind of ‘impresa' or heroic attack.

"I know the tifosi always hope I can do something special in the two big mountain stages but if my legs don't respond there's not much I can do," Nibali replied before dropping a hint he may at least try his hand.

"If my legs are good, who knows. My legs felt pretty good today."

Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli was also questioned live on television post stage.

"We should have the results of the tests tonight, we'll think things over calmly and decide things," he said, also hinting that Nibali will likely continue in the Giro d'Italia.

"I think Vincenzo always raced with his heart and he's proved it. We've paid a high price for what's happened but we've still got three stages to race. Tomorrow will be a tough day but who knows what will happen."

More on this story:
Giro d’Italia stage 18 highlights – Video
Giro d’Italia stage 18 – Finish line quotes

At the start of the stage in Muggio, Nibali was happy to sign autographs and also chatted with his long-time agent Alex Carera.

Carera wanted to respond to the series of allegations and insinuations about Nibali's poor performance in the Giro d'Italia. Carera is currently working to secure Nibali's next contract but flatly denied links to the new Bahrain team have had an impact on his performance.

"I was surprised to see Vincenzo lose time like that the other day. He had a difficult build up to the Giro and was not at his best at the Giro del Trentino but then in the early stages he seemed to be on form because he was second overall in the general classification. Unfortunately things didn't go as planned on Sunday and then on Tuesday," Carera told Cyclingnews.

"I think the results of the medial tests will be important to understand what has happened to Vincenzo. The results will be analysed by Vincenzo's coach Paolo Slongo and the team doctor Emilio Magni. I'm convinced that Vincenzo is still a great rider and that he can be competitive in Grand Tours.

Vincenzo tweeted the other day that's he's only human and we all have good and bad moment in our lives. We've all got used to him doing an incredible series of results in Grand Tours in the last few years. He's won the Vuelta a Espana, the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France and even finished fourth in the Tour de France last year and won a great stage despite having a difficult start to the race. We're not used to seeing him losing."

Carera confirmed that he is working to secure Nibali a new two-year contract with the new Bahrain team but refused to rule out Nibali staying at Astana.

"I don't think talk of his future is the cause of his problems. Vincenzo has been out of contract several times during his career and has never had any kind of problem with his current team," Carera said categorically.

"Vincenzo is very professional in everything he does. It's true he's out of contact this year but we've always said that any decision about his future will be made after the Giro d'Italia because it was his big goal of the season along with the Rio Olympics. The big boss of the Astana team Darkan Mangeldiev will arrive at the Giro for the final stages and we'll talk after the race is finished.

"Everyone knows the Bahrain project is well advanced because Milan Erzen, who is very close to the prince in Bahrain, is working to secure several leaders for the team. I think the arrival of the Bahrain Cycling Project is the best news of the year for professional cycling because while other teams are closing, a new team is being created. Invested. They're keen to do things right and respect the UCI rules on rider signings and so I don't think anything will be announced and confirmed until after August 1 when the transfer window is officially open."

Carera also dismissed reports that Astana could replace Nibali by signing Peter Sagan with financial help from bike sponsor Specialized.

"That's a question to ask four different people," Carera told Cyclingnews. "Sagan above all, his agent Giovanni Lombardi, Astana team manager Alexandre Vinokourov and then Oleg Tinkov, because I think Sagan has a contract for 2017. In theory it's impossible for Sagan to sign a new contract with another team if he's under contract with Tinkoff.

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