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Astana manager: Nibali’s form in doubt ahead of Vuelta, worlds

MILAN, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali let loose too much after winning the Giro d’Italia, says team Astana. He is behind and chasing form heading towards the Vuelta a España and the world championships.

“I’m not going to hide it, I expected him to be further along [in fitness],” team manager Giuseppe Martinelli told Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport. “He let up too much after the Giro and when he got going again, too much time had already passed.”

Nibali won the Giro handily in May ahead of Rigoberto Urán (Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing). It added to his 2010 Vuelta a España title and third place overall in the Tour de France last year.

The Italians marked the Vuelta a España, to be held August 24-September 15, as the next goal. The signs are not great, however. Nibali, who traveled to Kazakhstan twice after the Giro for sponsor commitments, was not in peak form when he returned at the Tour of Poland last week. After winning Tirreno-Adriatico, the Giro del Trentino, and the Giro d’Italia, Nibali finished more than an hour behind winner Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge).

Martinelli believes Poland’s hard start in Trentino, Italy, worked against Nibali. He hopes the Vuelta a Burgos, which begins Wednesday, will put his star on track. If not, fans might start to put their money on Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) or Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

“Maybe this will be better for his goal of winning the world championship, but I’d rather not think of that now,” Martinelli added. “We are going to Spain to win.”

Bettini relaxed

“It’s hot and he’ll lose any extra kilos right away,” Italian national coach Paolo Bettini said last week of Nibali. “Anyway, the worlds are not like the Vuelta. It’s like a one-day classic, so a few extra kilograms won’t hurt.”

Bettini selected Nibali to lead the worlds team last year in The Netherlands, and said that he will do the same this year in Florence. He already has a planned trip to Spain September 5-6 to see Nibali and potential team Italy candidates. From what he has seen so far, he is not worried — at least for the worlds at the end of September.

“Worried? Not at all. Actually, I’d be worried if Nibali was there fighting for the win on the Pordoi stage [in Poland],” Bettini added.

“He had his contractual responsibilities to respect after the Giro. He told me at the end of June, he couldn’t handle it anymore and needed to recover. I understand, I did the same thing, stopping riding for a good period at one point.”

Last year, Nibali raced the Tour de France. He kept rolling towards the worlds with a steady diet of races: London Olympics, Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge, and the Giro di Padania, which he won.

Martinelli is worried but Bettini remains calm. The two-month break and the Poland/Burgos/Vuelta lead-up should be perfect for the worlds, which boasts the hardest course in years.

“It’s better he raced as he did in Poland, not trying to rack up another win,” continued Bettini.

The Vuelta a Burgos, which takes the riders 139 kilometers around Burgos today, will give both Martinelli and Bettini an idea of what type of leader they will have. If Nibali is too far off target, all could be lost. If he improves from Poland, on the other hand, then anything is possible.