Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali have chosen separate locations for their final blocks of altitude training ahead of the Tour de France, but Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli is adamant the pair will pull in the same direction come July.
Speaking in Sestriere on Tuesday, where Aru is putting the finishing touches to preparations for his debut Tour, Martinelli reiterated that the Sardinian youngster will be Astana's leader, but said that the presence of Nibali, winner of the Giro d'Italia, would be a bonus.
"We won't go to the Tour with two leaders. Vincenzo is an extra weapon. I don't want any rivalry," Martinelli said, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. "Then the decisions will be made according to the race situation. I'm fortunate to have these two riders at my disposal. Managing them is easier than you think."
Nibali and Aru have followed largely separate programmes over the past three seasons at Astana, to the extent they have started just one WorldTour stage races together since the 2013 Giro – and that was last year's Vuelta a España, where Nibali was expelled after the second day of racing for taking a tow from a team car. The only other stage race was the season-ending Abu Dhabi Tour in 2015.
As well as dovetailing their efforts at the Tour, the pair will line out together at the Rio 2016 Olympics, where Nibali is slated to lead Davide Cassani's Italian team. While Aru has been training at Sestriere since the conclusion of the Dauphiné, Nibali has been clocking up the miles at the Passo San Pellegrino since his short break after the Giro.
"All of Italy can be proud of two athletes like Vincenzo and me. We'll be in light blue at the Tour but in the maglia azzurra in Rio," Aru told Gazzetta. "I have blind faith in Vincenzo.
"We've been together for four years. I observe my teammates and my rivals. I've learned a lot from Vincenzo, and I hope that I've given something to him too."
As per habit, Aru was a low-key presence during the spring, but he showed flashes of form at the Dauphiné, where he claimed his first ever professional victory outside of the Grand Tours when he snaffled a surprise win on stage 3 thanks to a daring attack on the descent of the Côte de Sécheras. "I was inspired by Vincenzo for that attack," Aru said.
Aru would finish the Giro some 45 minutes behind Chris Froome (Sky) in the general classification, but he downplayed his performance in the high mountains, insisting that the race was simply a training exercise with the Tour in mind.
"I didn't have the Dauphiné as an objective. I won the third stage, but then I focused on clocking up the kilometres and getting rhythm in my legs," Aru said. "Vincenzo and I prefer to find our rhythm in the races leading up to the appointment that counts. It's worked for us and we won't change our approach. Vincenzo was criticised a lot too, but in the end at the Giro, he was right."
Astana are due to confirm their final nine-man selection for the Tour on Wednesday, though the Kazakhstani squad's long-list has already apparently been reduced to just ten riders.
Alongside Aru and Nibali, the Italian members of the 'gruppo Aru' – Diego Rosa, Dario Cataldo and Paolo Tiralongo – seem certain of selection. Jakob Fuglsang, Andriy Grivko, Luis Leon Sanchez, Alexey Lutsenko and Tanel Kangert are the other riders in the running.
Winner of the Vuelta a España last year and twice a podium finisher at the Giro, the 25-year-old Aru has hit just about every target that has been set for him since he turned professional at the end of 2012. Speaking in this month's edition of Procycling, Martinelli said that the Sardinian's aim was to "be competitive" at the Tour and opined that he could rub shoulders with Froome, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana in July.
"It's an adventure in a race I don't know, I just hope to do well," Aru said in Sestriere on Tuesday. Asked if he could win, Aru was succinct: "Who doesn't dream of winning?"
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