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Scarponi says new teammate Nibali will win the 2014 Tour de France

MILAN (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) may be more complete and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) may be a better climber, but Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is smarter, according his new teammate Michele Scarponi. He says Nibali will be able to outwit his Tour de France foes to win next July.

“Quintana is the strongest climber. Froome is a slightly more complete rider with a better time trial. Nibali, though, creates opportunities for himself,” Scarponi told VeloNews. “He has more imagination and doesn’t need to follow the book to the letter. Vincenzo is able to win next year’s Tour.”

Nibali placed third behind Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in 2012. While Froome won this year, Nibali focused on the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España — he won the first and was runner-up to Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) in Spain.

Sky’s general manager David Brailsford agrees with Scarponi. Last month, he said Nibali will be Sky’s No. 1 rival at the 2014 Tour de France.

“What I like about Vincenzo is that he’s a real cyclist. He’s a fighter, aggressive, and never gives up,” Brailsford told Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport. “He can transform a stage, he’s creative and brave. He always gives 100 percent. His talent is obvious and he races in a modern way.”

The 29-year-old Sicilian also won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro del Trentino over the past 12 months. Scarponi, perhaps, partially based his opinion on the former, where Nibali cracked Froome on the penultimate day. He attacked on the small climbs in the rain and descended away to Porto Sant’Elpidio. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) won the stage, Nibali took the leader’s blue jersey and defended it in the short, 9.2-kilometer time trial the next day.

Scarponi also helped Nibali out-last Froome and the elements during the road race at the world championships. Froome and the entire British team abandoned in Florence’s rain. Nibali crashed, battled the Spaniards, and placed fourth to Portugal’s Rui Costa.

Part of the reason Scarponi joined Astana from Lampre-Merida was because Nibali inspires him. He wants to be on the team that helps bring Italy its first Tour de France win since Marco Pantani did so in 1998.

“Helping Nibali win the Tour and being beside one of the most important riders motivates me. If it goes as well as I hope, then it’s going to be a great Tour for Vincenzo,” Scarponi said.

“I’ve helped others before, but no one like Vincenzo. At team Liberty Seguros, I worked with Roberto Heras in the Vuelta a España and I helped my new boss, Alexander Vinokourov, in the Vuelta a Burgos. With Vincenzo, though, we are talking about winning the Tour de France.”

Scarponi won the 2011 Giro d’Italia after officials disqualified Alberto Contador due to a doping suspension. He placed fourth three other times, including this year behind Nibali. The 34-year-old will not stop riding for himself, but helping Astana at the Tour appears to be his top goal.

“It does not bother me that all the attention is on Vincenzo now. I knew it’d be that way when I signed,” Scarponi said.

“I’ll have my space in the Giro, but there are a lot of stars gunning for the pink jersey. My goal is to have a great Giro and to help Nibali at the Tour — clearly, that won’t be easy. To race the Giro and Tour is already difficult enough. Maybe I can achieve a top three but really, I can’t be tired at the Tour because I gave everything I had at the Giro.”