Astana have lost Premier Tech as a co-title sponsor and a co-team owner for 2022 but Alexander Vinokourov has wrested back control of the team since being distanced by Yana Seel in the summer. The team will be sponsored by the Kazakhstan sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna and other backers in 2022.
Nibali enjoyed the best years of his career in Astana’s distinctive sky blue colours between 2013 and 2016. He won the Giro d’Italia in 2013 and 2016, and the Tour de France in 2014. Nibali has ridden for Trek-Segafredo for the last two seasons and Bahrain Merida for three years before that.
According to reports in Thursday’s La Gazzetta dello Sport, Nibali’s young brother Antonio will also move to Astana with a two-year contract, along with Nibali’s trusted soigneur Michele Pallini and team doctor Emiliano Magni.
Nibali will return to work with directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli, who guided him from the team car during his biggest victories. Nibali occasionally clashed with Astana team manager Vinokourov but will work under him in what is likely to be the final year of his long career.
“I am very happy to come back to Team Astana, because for me it is a real family that has given me a lot and together with which I have achieved my greatest successes,” Nibali said in a statement released by Astana.
“I know most of the management and staff of the team, so I will return to the team I know really well. Also I have some very nice memories from visiting Kazakhstan and its capital and it was an unforgettable experience.”
Nibali rode both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in 2021 but opted not to target the overall classification in both races. The Tokyo Olympic Games road race was a major goal but Nibali was 53rd. He will turn 37 in November and so has gradually lowered his ambitions.
“It is difficult to talk right now about any specific expectations for my return to the team, as well as about the plans for next season,” Nibali said.
“First of all, for me it will be an enjoyable reunion with the team, and I would like to enjoy the new season to the fullest. Of course, I would like to prove myself, to achieve certain results, but at the same time I am interested in providing my experience to young riders.
“In any case, together with the team management we will still discuss various aspects of the new season, we will determine the goals, both team and my personal ones, and after that we will start moving in the chosen direction.”
Nibali is not part of the Italian team for the World Championships but is working for the final races of the season, especially Il Lombardia on Saturday, October 9. He will also ride next week’s Giro di Sicilia on his home roads.
Astana has extended Alexey Lutsenko’s contract but Jakob Fuglsang and Hugo Houle are expected to move on with Premier Tech. The Canadian company is expected to join forces with Team BikeExchange but Premier Tech CEO Jean Bélanger recently told La Presse that Israel Start-Up Nation, Qhubeka-NextHash and Rally Cycling have been considered as possible partners.
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Astana will have a core of Italian riders in 2022. Samuele Battistella, Manuele Boaro, Fabio Felline and Davide Martinelli are all expected to stay, with new signings including Gianni Moscon and Leonardo Basso from Ineos Grenadiers and David de la Cruz from UAE Team Emirates.
Nibali is expected to have a mentoring role in the team.
“We are happy that this return is coming true. Vincenzo Nibali doesn’t need any introduction – he is a true champion and leader,” Vinokourov said.
“He probably spent the best years of his career in our team, and I think it’s symbolic that he will finish such a great cycling career in Team Astana.
“For us, the arrival of Nibali is an opportunity to get and to use all the rich experience a rider of his calibre can offer, to transform and improve the team, which will undergo some great changes in the new season.
“We would like to pay more attention to young riders and the presence of a champion like Nibali could play a very important role in their growth and development. However, I believe that Vincenzo has not said yet his last word in cycling, so in some races we can still rely on him as the leader of the team to achieve new successes together again.”
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